Opposition mounts campaign to STOP A-B Tech sales-tax referendum

Opposition is mounting against a Nov. 8 referendum that would pave the way for a 0.25 percent sales-tax increase in Buncombe County to fund $129 million in building improvements at A-B Tech.

Robert Malt, executive director of the Sales Tax Opposition Partnership (STOP), recently spoke at an Asheville Tea Party meeting at the Skyland Fire Dept. and outlined his reasons to vote against it. Here’s the video of his talk (courtesy of Fremont Brown and Virgil Productions):

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Malt and the Buncombe County Republican Party are in the process of waging a grassroots campaign to defeat the referendum.

“I think raising taxes in the middle of the second Great Depression is not a swift idea,” says Malt, who previously served a short stint in 2009 as the party chair of the Buncombe County Republican Party.

The current chair of the party, Henry Mitchell, agrees: “We’re opposed to any tax increase, especially during these hard economic times,” he says. “We fully support A-B Tech and what they do for the community. It’s an excellent school and the provide a good community service.  But it’s just the fact that a sales-tax increase at this time is not a good thing for the economy and the local folks. We’re working to try to get people to vote against it.”

Malt says he’s been distributing fliers, yard signs and bumper stickers urging people to vote against the tax increase.

“We think most people are against this, and our biggest challenge is just letting people know that there’s a vote,” he says.

But some party leaders disagree, including former Asheville Mayor Lou Bissette, a Republican who’s serving as co-chair of the campaign to pass the tax.

“There’s a lot of activists out there who are very ideological in some way and they have very strong beliefs that taxes are not the way,” he says. “But I’ve come to the conclusion that if our community wants to educate our kids and provide jobs for this community, a quarter-cent sales tax is a way to do it. … I know for a fact that there are an awful lot of Republicans in this community that are supporting this referendum.”


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28 thoughts on “Opposition mounts campaign to STOP A-B Tech sales-tax referendum

  1. sharpleycladd

    Vocational training is part of the job-recruiting toolbox for our town. Voting against paying .25 extra for every 4-5 bags of groceries seems shortsighted when it’s weighed against recruiting high-wage jobs for our area.

    • Athena

      There generally isn’t sales tax on groceries, but good point is a good one. .25 per $100 isn’t much.

  2. Barry Summers

    I’m the first to say mean things about Lou Bissette. But when he’s right, you gotta give it to him. We have to invest in the future, and I’m glad to see local conservatives recognize that & buck the pure ideologues in their own party.

  3. I guess some commenters, and others, are not watching the video or listening to the opposition’s arguments. (Or don’t want to for some reason.)

    This tax increase is NON-BINDING. Revenues go into the general fund, by law, and are NOT required to be spent on A-B Tech. Also, this tax increase does not sunset.

    Rep. Moffitt introduced a bill to make the tax revenue binding and Sen. Martin Nesbitt kill that bill. Why?

    And why is no one advocating that proponents voluntarily donate their own money to A-B Tech instead of forcibly taking it from taxpayers against their will? If your case is a good one, use persuasion, not force.

    • propagate.eustress

      Actually, it expires when the building costs are collected, expected to be in 17 years. This is clearly spelled out here: http://www.voteforabtech.com/faqs

      It does worry me that the county isn’t mandated to give the money to A-B Tech, however, I work in an A-B Tech building that is not adequately heated in winter, not cooled in the summer, and frequently looses power (average winter temperature in my office is 48 degrees F).

      The fact is many of the buildings are an embarrassment to the College and the community.

      While not perfect, it sure would be nice if it meant I didn’t have to wear long johns and wool sweaters to work for four months of the year… which by the way, are way to warm when I go down the hall to the rooms where they can’t get the room to be less than 80 degrees…

    • wncguy


      Unfortunately state law requires them to write the referendum this way.

    • bill smith

      “And why is no one advocating that proponents voluntarily donate their own money to A-B Tech instead of forcibly taking it from taxpayers against their will?”

      Are you under the impression consumers are ‘forced’ to pay for a night at a fancy hotel?

      Will you be donating some of your own windfall to the cause, Tim?

  4. Dionysis

    I’m sure Grover Norquist is pleased; his anti-tax warriors doing battle against eeeeeeeevvvvvviiiilllll .25% tax increase that will more than pay for itself in future years. One has to wonder if this zeal is based upon some kind of ideological purity at the expense of common sense, or if it stems from the personal stinginess of these people.

  5. Dionysis

    “If your case is a good one, use persuasion, not force.”

    If your case is a good one, why the effort to derail a referendum vote on it?

  6. Betty

    I have no problem with AB-Tech needing to raise money to pay for existing infrastructure needs, and even for new programs to meet a demonstrated need in the community. (However, I still have not heard of any local demand for new programs — from the hiring sector, that is.)

    My problem is the way they are going about it.

    The best way to ask taxpayers to fund this would be with a referendum on a bond, not a tax.

    The problem with taxation is the way the law is written regarding our county tax money. That the county commissioners have promised it will go to AB-Tech is simply not enforceable. The commissioners have a lot of spending issues and who is to say that they won’t suddenly decide the money “really” needs to go somewhere else? The taxpayers will be left with an unfunded liability.

    NEXT problem I have.
    This is an off-year election. The fact that this is a county-wide referendum is being seriously downplayed. The only item on county voters’ ballots will be the referendum. City/town voters at least have all the publicity of the municipal elections to get them out to vote. A ploy? Certainly seems like it to me.

    The honest thing to do would be to have a bond referendum in a major election year — like 2012.

    So, get out and vote NO on the County Sales & Use Tax referendum.

    • wncguy


      Since you are so good at pushing the republican talking points, I have a hard time believing you would support even a bond referendum if it was on any ballot, 2011 or otherwise.

      Since this tax isn’t on gas, groceries, drugs, or property…most of what working families consistently spend on wouldn’t be taxed at all. However, I’m all for our visitors and out of town guests getting paying a 1/4 of a penny more on their hotel stay, restaurant and bar bills to improve AB Tech

      And to you other point…I’m sorry but your party didn’t want a referendum on the ballot for county commissioner elections at all, thanks to Tim Moffit, but DID want the marriage referendum on the May PRIMARY ballot. So I don’t think you all are in a position to complain when a referendum is. And you know what, an election is an election…if a voter doesn’t come out he or she runs the risk of not having their voice heard…that’s called democracy.


    • Betty


      Why would I not support a bond referendum in 2012? I’m my own person with my own opinions, not a political party hack.

      I strongly suspect the county commissioners would rather not see this as a campaign issue in 2012 when they are running, and at a time when county voters are more engaged. I hope the referendum will be defeated this fall, so commissioners & AB-Tech leaders can do the right thing in 2012, which I believe would be to have a bond referendum, not a tax referendum.

      And why should visitors be made to pay for our own community college? It’s our responsibility, not theirs.

      Please vote NO on the County Sales & Use Tax referendum.

  7. cecilbothwell

    The Republican agenda couldn’t be clearer. Among their goals is the demolition of public education in every form. They’re working at it in Raleigh, in Washington, and right here in Buncombe County.

    They come up with straw issues (in this case, the argument about the money going into the general fund) to blur their intent. The same voters who cast their ballots on this tax will select the County Commission which oversees it. That’s called representative government, and is the basis for our whole system. I trust the system to be self-correcting, and taxes are the dues I pay to live in a civilized society.

    Vote YES on the referendum!

    • Betty

      Trust the system?
      I think the system has definitively been proved to grow more corrupt and self-serving as time progresses.

      Still voting NO.

    • Barry Summers

      Please tell us specifically what “fraud and theft” you’re referring to here.

  8. JediLouie

    I’ve never seen a building at A-B Tech that is 45 degrees in the winter. Never.

    Robert Malt has hit all of the issues square on the head. His points match what the John Locke Foundation study also concluded. There is no guarantee that this money will go to A-B Tech.

    If people are truly concerned about A-B Tech, I suggest making a donation to its foundation, rather then taking money from the citizens of Buncombe county by force. Making a donation will ensure that the money goes to the college.

    On a side note, has anyone heard of the new screensaver on A-B Tech computers that lists “facts”? These “facts” are not true and are a distortion of reality. Someone should review this to be sure that campaign laws aren’t being broken. I was under the impression that no work time or money could be used to campaign. If these were truly just informational then they should have true facts on them and not more lies.

    • bradasheville

      I work at AB Tech Enka Campus. The AC and Heating go out each year with these very outdated buildings and systems. Are you in our building throughout the year?

  9. bill smith

    It’s very easy to be against taxes. It’s much harder to have realistic ideas of revenue generation for infrastructure that will continue to benefit Buncombe County for decades to come.

    Also, does anyone really believe a quarter of a percent sales tax increase is really going to harm our economy, or anyone’s checkbook? I find the notion utterly absurd.

  10. Barry Summers

    This is part of the Art Pope-funded assault on higher-education in North Carolina. They believe that schools and universities should have their public funding cut in order to force them to accept the ideological curriculum changes that come along with private funding. In the words of the President of the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy,

    “It’s time to ‘starve the beast’

  11. sharpleycladd

    I plan on funding my own fire department, just to keep my house from burning to the ground.

    Not yours.

    The “voluntary donation” crowd is basically advocating poverty: exactly the fire, police, building codes enforcement, wage-and-hour standards, etc., that the poorest among us is willing to “voluntarily” support.

    I guess your house will have to burn to the ground, or your employer will have to relocate you to Killeen, Texas (unless it’s burned to the ground, most of Texas is on fire) because their community college trains the staff your company needs. Then you might get a glimmer.

  12. Wedgy

    So will ABTech wait until the $130 million is collected before building– 20 some years? Ha! It looks like it will have borrow the money to start the construction that it’s so urgently in need of right NOW. The need is suddenly so urgent that it can not wait for better economic times– to heck with the plight of the common man, let alone those in more desparate circumstances! The effect is like ABTech taking out a huge mortgage payment on behalf of Buncombe County citizens that binds them to payments for a long, long time. Is this a wise way to spend money this way, let alone tax dollars during bad economic times? There are many other more urgent and money or job producing causes. If the tax is so trivial day-by-day to the average citizen, then why are they pursuing it? Geez, it’s for the huge net payoff in the long run which represents a huge amount of money when contributed toward any cause. ABTech doesn’t create jobs. It provides education, grants degrees, and incubates a very small number of businesses. How well are its programs aligned with job needs currently? Given its desire to expand, what programs would be expanded and how does this relate to projected business need? Were’s the accountability?

    • bill smith

      “to heck with the plight of the common man, let alone those in more desparate circumstances! ”

      How does this tax hurt the ‘common man’?

      “ABTech doesn’t create jobs”

      Errrr… you think the people doing all the construction work will donate their time?

      “it’s for the huge net payoff in the long run ”

      Can you clarify what you are referring to here?

  13. sharpleycladd

    Actually, a recession with depressed interest rates is the most prudent time to commit and borrow. Perhaps Wedgy would prefer the County wait until the economy gets rolling (and interest rates go up) before borrowing. ABTech actually does create jobs, though in a roundabout way: there are a number of hospitals located at its doorstep, and they’re staying and building in Asheville because of the training pipeline nextdoor. This is the mission of the school, to train for work, and it’s an invaluable recruitment tool for new jobs. Moreover, a community that shows the kind of commitment to vocational training that builds during a downturn gets attention from prospective employers.

    Most of the objections here and elsewhere devolve onto a mistrustful attitude toward government rooted more in emotion than critical thinking, as well as a pretty thoroughgoing ignorance about what public institutions do and how they can be more efficient and effective. The only objection – I believe – that holds any water is the general fund vs. earmark thing, which requires us to be vigilant and involved citizens who make sure this money is properly spent. The dreary work of citizenship, conducted without adolescent tantrums and doorslamming. Ho-hum.

  14. Wedgy

    This isn’t so much about the economics of borrowing. It’s about who’s money this is, how it’s being spend, and when. This isn’t about whether institutions of higher education, particularly technical, play a role in attracting business and industry– they do. But they really don’t create jobs directly and are but one factor among many in how business and industry select where and when to expand. If not, why has there been such significant expansion of US companies overseas, including in many countries that have a much inferior educational system than that in the US? Placing final blame on the citizens for the poor and often greed based decisions of their elected reprentatives is, to a large extend, blaming the victims.

  15. Robert Malt

    @SharpleyCladd:”Most of the objections here and elsewhere devolve onto a mistrustful attitude toward government rooted more in emotion than critical thinking”

    No, S. Cladd…just the opposite. Critical thinkers are mistrustful of the government because there is ample historical evidence to be so. Wishful thinkers always think it will be different this time.

    Why did Sen. Martin Nesbitt (supporter of the tax) kill the bill that would have ensured that the money goes to A-B Tech, and the tax would be temporary?

  16. cecilbothwell

    Conservatives have sown distrust of government for years, particularly since their hero, Ronald Reagan, intoned “Government is the problem.” They have beaten the anti-government, anti-tax drum so long, so loud, so persistently,that few politicians are willing to stand up and defend taxation and government programs anymore.

    But the truth is that our economy has generally grown more during higher tax periods than during our current tiny tax period. There is no correlation between low taxes and economic growth.

    The reluctance to seek this funding through a bond referendum is directly related to the conservative poisoning of the arguments around tax increases. Even if a bond related increase in property taxes worked out to be the same or smaller per capita than the 1/4 cent sales tax, the same forces (like Robert Malt, organizer of the anti-1/4 cent brigade) would fight it tooth and nail.

    The straw argument that the money isn’t earmarked has been repeatedly debunked but needs to be again. As soon as the referendum passes, the Commission will borrow the money (at today’s very low interest rates) and owe the money. You can play all the semantic games you like about how THIS money MIGHT go SOMEWHERE ELSE … but the loan will have to be repaid. Period. Anyone who tells you that the Commission “could” spend the money elsewhere is basically telling you that the County is willing to default on a loan and lose its good bond rating.

    Uh huh. Sure thing. Happens all the time.


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