Easy steps to pass your own sales tax

Posted in: Bridges, Highways


retouched-335Local Option Sales Tax programs are an alternative funding source to the traditional federal and state gas tax funding that we’ve come to depend on as a nation. With an aging infrastructure system in dire need of repair and a Highway Trust Fund teetering on the edge of losing its solvency, diversity of funding sources is key.

Think sales tax programs could help maintain, improve or build infrastructure in your community? If so, there are a few steps that are instrumental to garner public favor and successfully pass a sales tax referendum:

Google it

Before all else, you must first verify your state allows counties or local townships to levy a Local Option Sales Tax program. This can be easily examined by reviewing your state code of laws. A typical Google search can directly locate the statue of law concerning your state’s position towards local option sales tax.

Identify champions

Once proper legislation is confirmed, you must identify a champion to spearhead your campaign and successfully promote your program. State laws exclude county officials from advocating the referendum. A county can only educate citizens about the process, not promote or endorse it. A logical champion choice would be your local chamber of commerce, so look to garner their support early. It is essential to have your local chamber, or other grass roots community group, take charge of advocating the program.

Prioritize projects

Choose your projects wisely. Local Option Sales Tax programs come in two variations: capital sales tax projects or transportation projects. Capital sales tax programs include a wide variety of infrastructure projects from vertical buildings and utility upgrades to bridges and roadways. And you guessed it… transportation programs are centered on transportation projects. It is important to understand and recognize what matters most to your citizens. If traffic is a hot button item, then proposing to upgrade your town hall is not likely to gain a lot of favorable votes.

State legislation usually requires the appointment of a selection commission to develop a list of projects to be placed on the referendum, pending council approval. The selection commission should encompass and represent a diverse pool of voters. Emphasis must be placed on prioritizing the list order and hitting citizens’ hot buttons to elicit a coveted “yes” vote. Prioritizing the project list will also give citizens confidence their tax dollars will be well spent.038 no post

Brand your program

Keep it simple. Send surveys or polls to gather citizen input to form your brand. A recently successful sales tax referendum focused on only three focal points: local control, local jobs and safer roads. These points were derived from local citizens’ survey responses. The message established a successful brand, never wavered and gained public support to help pass their sales tax program.

Inform the public

Last, but not least, clear and open lines of communication will help build support from your community. Make sure the public is aware of the project list and sales yax campaign. Publicly post details of the program to a dedicated website, hold public forums and interact with citizens on social media. With citizen buy-in, influence, and support, your sales tax can successfully pass the first time.

Our experience has shown these steps are vital in establishing a Local Option Sales Tax and can bring millions in new revenue funds. Feel free to visit these successfully passed Sales Tax Programs for additional resources:

Horry County Riding On A Penny

Richland County Transportation Penny

York County Pennies for Progress


Berry Still, PE

About the Author

Berry Still, P.E., has unique experience with the three major aspects of a roadway project – environmental, design and construction – give him keen insight necessary to anticipate environmental issues early so that project schedules are maintained. This is especially valuable in the design-build projects where time is of the essence. Berry’s knowledge of the NEPA and permitting process and the stakeholders involved will prove to be an asset to any project team.

Read more posts by Berry Still, PE

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