Democrat Walter Dalton said his first budget plan if elected governor will not include a sales tax increase to fund education, an apparent shift on a key issue in the campaign. But at the same time, Dalton is refusing to rule out a sales tax hike in future years.
“What I have always said is I don’t like the cuts to education; it wasn’t about embracing the tax,” Dalton said in an interview Thursday. “But it was a way to resolve it and I supported the extension of three-quarters of a penny sales tax to get us through the tough times.”
Earlier this year, as he campaigned for the Democratic primary nomination, Dalton backed a proposal pushed by Gov. Bev Perdue and legislative Democrats to increase the sales tax to provide more money to schools hit hard by the recent state budget cuts. He saw it as an “extension” of the one-cent sales tax levy that expired last year.
The pivot is designed to nullify a key attack point Republican rival Pat McCrory is using to criticize Dalton. Earlier this month, McCrory blasted Dalton, saying he "agrees with Beverly Perdue and ... he wants to increase the sales tax in North Carolina – on you – by 15 percent."
Dalton disputes that he is changing his position, saying the tax hike he supported only applied to the current budget. But on the campaign trail, Dalton rarely, if ever, made that caveat before now and the tax hike Perdue advocated never included a sunset date. “In my mind, it was always clear” it would be a one year tax, Dalton said.
Even though Dalton still believes his reasons for tax hike – tough economic times and low education funding – still exist, he said state tax revenues slowly improving and his forthcoming education inititatives won’t require a sales tax hike.
The campaign said Dalton has made his no-sales-tax pitch is recent town halls but the shift received little attention until this week when he made the case on News 14's Capital Tonight. Dalton told the host Tim Boyum that he was not inclined to raise sales taxes now. His campaign later clarified to Dome that Dalton wouldn't increase sales taxes if elected.
But Dalton didn't want to go that far in an interview Thursday. Asked if he would rule out a sales tax hike for his four years as governor, Dalton said: "No, I didn't say that. I've got another call I'll talk to you later."
Dalton never called back