[Cross-posting a good story about push-polling on the Transfer Tax (which the commissioners discuss tonight)at BlueNC by Greg Flynn.]
Orange County residents have been on the receiving end of dubious push poll telephone calls recently, described by one recipient as:
...what may very well be the most egregious violation of research ethics I have every experienced. The questions were all about transfer tax in Orange County and it was sleazy. The company was named TDM Research in Birmingham
TDM Research, associated with Democratic political consulting firm The Tyson Organization, whose clients include Bob Etheridge, has been responsible for other dubious push polls in Florida and Virginia in the past.
Why all the fuss? Tuesday evening, February 5th, at 7.30pm, the Orange County Board of Commissioners, at its regular meeting, will a public hearing regarding a Local Revenue Options Referendum. The purpose of the hearing is "to solicit opinion from voters regarding which, or both, of two local revenue options should be placed on a May 2008 referendum for voter consideration." In other words, they are trying to decide between a 1/4% sales tax or a 0.4% transfer tax increase to pay for growth.
The Commissioners have established a Local Revenue Options Education Advisory Committee to help develop and disseminate factual information about the need for new local revenue options but since the first appointment in November have only named 11 members of the 20 member committee. According to today's News & Observer:
Board members are leaning toward presenting only the transfer tax option, but [Commission Chair Barry Jacobs] said they still need to talk it over. He recognizes that a transfer tax referendum would face stiff opposition and might have few advocates. "The home builders and the Realtors have made it clear that they will pour money into campaigns to defeat transfer taxes," Jacobs said. "And since the government's role is to educate, not advocate, it raises the question of where's the counterbalancing force."
Neighboring Chatham County has been a battleground for Local Revenue Options and somewhat of a political laboratory for developers and realtors in recent years. Despite the enthusiasm of county commissioners the transfer tax was defeated in part because commissioners underestimated not just the tsunami of real estate money but the need for public education and active local support. A newsletter circulated in the past few days from Pittsboro Together claims that the Chatham Coalition, which shares many members, chose not to actively support the transfer tax referendum because they had initially been "specifically asked not to be visibly involved". In the interim members focused their energy on the Pittsboro municipal elections and when subsequently asked to support the transfer tax declined to participate in the transfer tax issue for fear of conflating the tax with municipal issues. In the end their fears were realized anyway as the transfer tax drew opponents out of the woodwork.
Home builders and realtors have indeed poured money into this issue and had been amassing a war chest for just this purpose. The Charlotte Observer reports that the real estate industry anticipated and planned the defeat of the transfer tax for years and bragged about it at an event in Raleigh organized by NC FREE:
The real estate industry spent hundreds of thousands of dollars last year to oppose a proposed tax on the sale of property, what it called the "home tax." As it turns out, the industry had been saving up money for the expected battle for at least a decade. ::::: Todd McGee, a spokesman for the commissioners' association, said in an interview Friday that the real estate industry benefited last year from more experience and resources. "It's easy to win the battle for public opinion when you're the only one out there spouting an opinion," McGee said.
NC FREE is an allegedly "non-profit, non-partisan political research business association" that counts Art Pope and NC Realtors' executive director Tim Kent and NC Homebuilders' executive vice president Michael Carpenter as board members. NC FREE has had a semi-dormant PAC since the late 80's but has recently made a new push for contributions calling itself FREEPAC but known officially and enigmatically as NC FORUM FOR RES & ECON ED PAC and has yet to file a 2007 year-end return. In an endorsement of the Money Talks school of public policy:
John Davis, president of N.C. FREE, praised the real estate industry's efforts as a model for other businesses involved in public policy debates. "They hired the best people they could hire," Davis said, "and that made a difference in winning and losing, in a big way."
The coming months will tell whether Orange County can navigate the treacherous path of Local Revenue Options and avoid being crushed by real estate interests to finally deliver a zinger that provides for sustainable growth.
I tried to bring the whole story over, but the code was a mess and I don't have time this morning to cross-post the whole thing. [I added the whole post from BlueNC. -BrianR]