Picture this: Someone comes up to you and says, “I’ll give you something totally useless that you will never use, and it’ll only cost you a few cents … but will add up to many dollars. Forever.”
Wow, what a deal! But that’s exactly what’s on my ballot in November, and, sadly, is too often the kind of choice North Carolinians are offered by our free-spending governments.
The measure we in Wake County face is typical of the questions that appear on ballots:
One-half Percent Local Sales and Use Tax
One-half percent (1/2%) local sales and use taxes, in addition to the current local sales and use taxes, to be used only for public transportation system.
( ) For
( ) Against
The first thing to remember: The taxes add up.
They’d better: They’re a linchpin of the county’s $2.3 billion transit plan.
We all know the expression “being nickeled and dimed to death.” Well, taxpayers are being half-pennied to death. Worse, these and other “little” tax increases come at us from all angles, and they never let up.
In the last two years, Wake County raised our property taxes by 1.35 cents and 3.65 cents per $100 in valuation. Those cents sure add up.
And did I mention the county also reassessed – i.e., raised – the value of my home? That, of course, also raised taxes.
But when do our county and local taxes decline? I have discerned no sign they ever will go down or even just hold steady.
Fortunately, in NC we have proof it isn’t physically impossible to cut taxes. The legislature and governor have actually cut income taxes for everyone in North Carolina.
That is such a miracle that it bears being repeated: State taxes have been cut since 2013.
So cutting taxes is not impossible. But will our county and local officials do it? How can we send them a message that enough is enough?
The first argument that comes up from the establishment is that our taxes fund things we need. Often, that isn’t so.
That’s especially true of mass transit. A December 2015 report, “Recommended Wake County Transit Plan,” admitted, “Transit is currently used by just 1.1% of commuters across the county.” You can do your own study: Check out local commuter buses and see how many are packed and how many are nearly empty.
Better ways to get there
And it looks more likely than ever that the number of Americans who want or need to ride a bus or commuter train will dwindle away. That’s because on Sept. 14, the ride-sharing company Uber debuted an experiment with a self-driving taxi service in Pittsburgh.
People in that Pennsylvania city will be able to call for autonomous Volvos that will automatically drive them to their destinations. It’s still an experiment: Uber employees will be in the front seats of the cars to take over if needed.
But it shows a very plausible way forward. The technology is in high gear. Ford, General Motors, Tesla and others are working hard to bring their own autonomous cars into use. Ford is claiming it will have a fleet of robo-taxis in use in five years.
And other countries are ahead of us. A similar experiment with self-driving cars was launched in August in Singapore.
Innovation and free enterprise are moving ahead rapidly, while government bureaucracy trudges along, trying to impose obsolete technology on us.
Of course, it’s hard to predict exactly what will happen. It’s entirely possible, however, that before Wake County has finished spending billions on mass transit, there will be a fleet of robo-cars humming along the streets of our cities, moving people far more conveniently and economically than buses or trains ever could.
If there is such progress, people will no longer need to rush to a bus stop or train station at a precise time, ride along while the vehicle stops and starts, then trudge from the final transit stop to their real destination. With luck, someday we’ll be able to dial up a self-driving car, and it will take us where we want to go.
That’s the likely possibility: The era of mass transit has ended. The era of personalized transit is beginning.
Every NC taxpayer should remember that when the establishment presses them to spend more, more, more, especially on outmoded forms of transportation. In November, Wake County voters now have one more reason to vote against a rise in the sales tax on the November ballot.
That in turn could be an opportunity of its own: to tell government we won’t tolerate the wasteful taking of more of our money, even a half-cent at a time.