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Panthers Pull A Page From The Tax-And-Spend Playbook

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The field of play in the Carolina Panthers’ drive for taxpayer subsidy shifted this week when the N.C. House government committee green-lighted legislation that nixes any hike to Charlotte’s local food and beverage tax to help fund Bank of America Stadium upgrades, but would allow the city to dip into the existing tax revenue stream for similar purpose.

Sure, the newly filed bill is a significantly down-sized version of the money grab city officials had initially sought; but it also offers a spin on the classic example of what happens far too often when allegedly fiscally conservative Republicans have a chance to protect the taxpayers’ interests.

The standard tax-and-spend playbook follows a depressingly predictable pattern: Democrats float, say, an 8-percent tax hike for (insert favorite cause here, usually the children, the environment, or social/economic equity); Republicans argue for no increase; after the requisite posturing and haggling, Democrats counter with 6-percent, Republicans with 3-percent; Democrats reluctantly accept a 5-percent increase, decrying it as a harsh cut, and Republicans claim victory in the name of fiscal responsibility while the taxpayer’s wallet shrinks.

Now let’s move to the GOP-controlled NC General Assembly, which needs to grant authority allowing for any adjustment to Charlotte’s so-called meal tax to help fund a Panthers subsidy.

Charlotte officials initially made the audacious ask to double the city’s 1% food and beverage tax for 30 years, raising upwards of $1 billion and funneling $144 million toward renovations for Carolina Panthers’ stadium with the leftovers funding new amateur sport facilities that are on the city’s wish list and socking away debt capacity for anticipated Panthers stadium renovations, or maybe even a brand new stadium, years in the future. That was all in addition to $63 million in state money that the Panthers were seeking, which Republican Gov. Pat McCrory recently said would not be forthcoming.

When the initial proposal to double the meal tax was roundly and rightfully rebuffed in Raleigh, city officials countered with a request of a half-cent hike for 15 years to raise $176 million for a Panthers’ subsidy. In response local legislators, led by Republican Reps. Ruth Samuelson and Bill Brawley, hatched the bill that squashed any tax increase and instead would use existing tax dollars to fill the Panthers’ coffers with nearly $110 million.

This is what passes for victory under the Republican-controlled NC General Assembly: taxpayers get their pockets picked for corporate welfare to subsidize a billionaire sports team owner whose franchise reportedly raked in upwards of $112 million profit in two seasons on the gridiron; but GOP stalwarts of fiscal responsibility won’t sully their hands by agreeing to hike an already high food and beverage tax even higher.

Hooray.

Meanwhile, Charlotte’s uptown lunch bunch – the usual cabal of special interest cheerleaders with a fiscal fervor for Center City baubles – is already gnashing teeth over the newly filed bill, claiming that diverting funds from the existing tax stream to subsidize the Panthers won’t leave enough loot to pay for Charlotte Convention Center renovations already being eyed by city tourism officials.

Understand that as sure as the Panthers have a propensity for blowing late-game leads, city officials with a tax-and-spend bent will ultimately, somewhere down the road, shuffle around fungible revenues adequate to keep convention center renovations on track. And instead of calling for a tax hike for another uptown pet project, one will be pitched for public safety because, magically, there won’t be enough money to pay for police or fire services.

Democrats will sound the alarm for one whopper of a tax hike; Republicans will reason for a more palatable one; Democrats will reluctantly agree to make due with a reduced increase; and everyone but the taxpayers will claim victory.

Touchdown.

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