Several silent opponents of a portion of Guilford County's car rental tax could be watching tonight when the board of county commissioners considers the issue.
Allen Page of Elon, regional grass roots coordinator for Citizens for a Sound Economy, said Wednesday that CSE has lobbied commissioners to drop a 5 percent increase imposed last year because opponents don't expect to get a hearing tonight.
CSE is a national organization promoting lower taxes.
Commissioners will consider extending the 5 percent increase that started April 1, 2002, during their 6:30 p.m. meeting at the Old Courthouse. The board approved the increase for the Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation. PART uses the money for an intercity shuttle bus service with about 400 daily riders and van pools.
Eventually, PART wants to develop a commuter bus and rail system. Brent McKinney, PART director, is expected to report to commissioners tonight about how PART has spent tax revenue.
"We think it is unfair to tax a competitor to pay for PART's survival," Page said. "That's like taxing Burger King to pay for a Taco Bell."
Because of board rules, opponents probably won't be able to discuss the issue tonight, said Democratic Commissioner Jeff Thigpen, the board's vice chairman. But if Republican Commissioner Billy Yow wins a vote, the board may hear opponents.
Page said opponents will take their concerns to PART trustees during a March 12 public hearing. Without an extension, PART's slice of the tax expires March 31.
"No one has to lobby me," Yow said. "I have been against this tax from the beginning and I will ask our chairman (Democrat Skip Alston) to let the public and the businesses speak about this."
Thigpen, who spent nearly two hours Friday discussing the issue with CSE supporters, said several commissioners want to extend the tax from two to five years.
"There is a majority to do something for PART," Thigpen said, "and a clear majority against abandoning them."
Opponent Glenn Miller, a Greensboro resident who operates a Rent-A-Wreck franchise in Winston-Salem, said the tax hurts even more in a slow economy. Forsyth County also charges the additional tax under PART's regional charter.
"This is an unfair tax," Miller said. "Most of my customers rent a car because their car is in the shop for repairs. I don't have a problem so much with the vans, but how they are paid for."
The car rental business is down about 15 percent, Miller said.
Charging customers as much as 21 percent in taxes has contributed to the failure of several Forsyth County car rental agencies, Miller said.
PART claims the tax has had no negative impact on the car rental market because rental business continues to increase. CSE claims local residents pay at least half of the tax.
"That's about $ 2 per day and that hurts the small agencies and their customers more," Page said.
Commissioners approved the tax increase for one year on condition that PART officials provide detailed reports of how it spends the tax money.
Last year, passage of the additional tax was controversial on several fronts.
Several local car rental agency managers opposed it.
"We are not against mass transit, but the taxing of competitors to pay for it," Page said.
"We think commissioners should look at other ways to pay for this, such as a room occupancy tax."
When the General Assembly created PART, it gave the authority two revenue alternatives, a tax on license tag renewals and the car rental tax.
PART also has used the tax money to attract state and federal money.
Pending approval is a $ 1 million federal grant for PART proposed in a bill before the U.S. Senate.