Political Black Caucus votes to endorse tax referendum in support of local arts

Caucus Chair Khalif Rhodes said members for and against the proposal expressed strong views before the measure passed by a narrow margin.

Khalif Rhodes

The Mecklenburg arts community has won a key ally in its push to pass a tax referendum that would provide additional funding for local arts, parks and education.

After an extended debate on Sunday, the Black Political Caucus of Charlotte-Mecklenburg voted to support the referendum, which would raise the county’s sales tax by a quarter-cent. If approved by voters next month, the additional tax would raise about $50 million a year for various initiatives relating to arts, parks, greenways and education.

Caucus Chair Khalif Rhodes said members for and against the proposal expressed strong views.

“I think we did a good job as a caucus of educating the body on the issue,” he told Qcitymetro. “We had members from both sides come and speak about it, and because of that, it was a very close vote.”

Q. Was this vote more divisive than some in the past?

No. When we did the school bonds two years ago, I think it was just as tight. Any time that you’re talking about spending money, there’s always folks that will say that it can be used in other areas. And so I believe that there was an argument — a loud argument – that there are other needs in Mecklenburg County that need to be addressed, other than arts.

Q. Why do you think the measure passed?

I believe that the (Vote Yes) campaign, under Darrel Williams’ leadership and other folks, they made a good argument that the arts are connected to a lot of the things that we see — issues within the community — and that if we don’t make a conscious effort to ensure that the arts are funded, that the folks that will be affected the most will be children that are in African-American communities that will not have access to the arts.

Q. In your mind, how are the arts tied to economic mobility?

I can tell you personally. I played an instrument for 13 years. I used to write music and had full intention before I touched a basketball to go to college on a music scholarship. I play concert music…and the rooms that it allowed me to go into being a poor child in Philadelphia — attorneys and bankers — people I never would have met in my life had I not been playing that instrument. It allowed me to see something. It gave me perspective that, wow, there’s another world out there.

Q. What impact do you see this endorsement having on the November vote, especially in the black community?

I believe it will have significant impact… Our goal is to educate not just our body but the masses. And so I would hope that as we go out and attempt to touch people and educate them, that we’ll do that in significant numbers.

Q. So the caucus will be active in its support for the ballot initiative?

Oh, yes; definitely.

Q. Any final thoughts?

I think I’ll go back to the beginning… Any time you’re talking about spending money and raising taxes, I think it’s a very hard conversation to have. But what I do recognize as someone that is a very, very big fan of the arts — I go to the ballet, I try to support local artists as much as I can — what I will tell you is that the arts are extremely important, and I want to make sure that every child coming out of an African-American community will have access to something that I think will open doors to greater opportunities.

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