Candidates discuss tax reform

Published 8:53 pm Tuesday, October 21, 2014

When it comes to tax reform in North Carolina, candidates for area seats in the N.C. General Assembly have as many views on that issue as there are candidates.

Those tax-reform views were explained during the candidates forum hosted by the Beaufort County Democratic Party and the Beaufort County Republican Party last week at Beaufort County Community College. The forum featured candidates for state Senate District 1, state House District 6 and state House District 3. They included incumbent state Sen. Bill Cook, a Republican representing Senate District 1; incumbent state Rep. Michael Speciale, a Republican representing House District 3; Whit Whitley, the Democrat challenging Speciale; incumbent state Rep. Paul Tine, a Democrat representing House District 3; and Mattie Lawson, the Republican challenging Tine. Democrat Stan White, who is challenging Cook, did not attend because he had a previous commitment to attend another forum in District 1.

Cook touted his previous efforts to reduce taxes in North Carolina.

“Tax relief is something I feel strongly about. It’s something we’ve been working very hard on. We’ve lowered you taxes, about $3 billion over the next three years,” Cook said. “We took the personal income tax from 7.76 percent at the top if the scale to a 5.8 percent flat rate. We’ve gotten rid of the death tax.”

Cook said those changes and others encourage the economy to grow.

“So, now you have more jobs. That means you’re going to have more taxpayers. What happens is you end up with more money than you would have had, had you just raised taxes,” he said. “Yes, we can lower taxes and still have the money to do things we need to do.”

Lawson said she’s a supporter of the fair tax.

“I would love to have the fair tax, eliminate the IRS and got rid of our income taxes,” Lawson said, noting there is little state legislators can do about that because that issue is at the federal government level.

“When it comes to raising taxes, no. We’ve got to stop our spending. You can’t have it both ways. Voters are going to be very upset, though. Voters like all those services, and they think they’re ready to pay for them,” Lawson said.

“There is no way we can continue to spend, spend spend and raise our taxes. We’re going to have to, at some point in time, stop. … I agree with Bill (Cook) that the solution is to increase the people who come here, the corporations, the businesses. A prosperous state is going to be able to handle the bills, but we can’t just keep raising taxes every time somebody sees something they think would be a great idea. Just because it’s a good idea doesn’t mean the government should do it.”

Speciale made it clear he supports tax reforms.

“We were the only state in the nation last year that was able to reform out tax system — the only one. A bunch of them tried it,” he said. “We changed our tax system from a three-tiered system to a flat tax — 5.8 percent this year, 5.75 percent next year and if those of us who are up there are hanging around long enough, we intend for there to be no more income tax here after a few years. That’s the whole point, get rid of the income tax. We don’t need to do anything with the sales tax, except get rid of all the deals, the backroom deals that have been made over the years by those who preceded us in the General Assembly and exempted this business and that business, this manufacturing and that manufacturing. There are so many deals made, ladies and gentlemen, that if we got rid of even half of the deals that have been made in the past and the exemptions that are made, we could cut our sales tax, probably, in half because of all the new things that would be subject to sales tax. That’s the plan, to get rid of the income tax, lower the sales tax. … I think we just need to stay the course that we’re on.”

Tine noted he was one of the few Democrats to vote for the latest tax reforms in the state, but it was not the plan he would have put in place.

“There are changes I would make, but I wasn’t in charge to be able to make the plan. I would have kept the homeowners tax exemption a little bit higher to try to promote that (home construction) because it’s an important industry our in our region — homeownership and building. But I felt it was important to show our businesses and our communities that we can be responsible with our money and that we can drive revenue in the right way,” Tine said. “But as far as continuing with our plan, I think we need to hold tight for a few years. The reason is we just passed a budget that has $800 million of revenue holes in it.”

It’s those holes that worry Tine.

“I talked to the finance chair, who’s a Republican, who voted against this budget because she saw the holes that were in this. … The governor has already asked for 2 percent back from the agencies across the state because they know there are holes inside of this budget. We need to fix it. We need to spend some time actually reforming our state government and making it more efficient — just by cutting doesn’t make it more efficient.”

Whitley said one of the problems related to government spending is the lack of term limits for lawmakers.

“I think there should be term limits. I believe in that. If you have term limits and you take the money out of politics. It’s so hard to go to Raleigh and make cuts when we have politicians who have been getting contributions for so long from so many different industries. There are cuts that need to be made. … I plan on going in and (look at each) line item, trying to find our where the expenses are. That’s how we operate our business. I don’t believe we should be spending more than we make.”

“I think eliminating the state income tax would be horrible for eastern North Carolina and Beaufort County, and here’s why. This would be a policy that would be pursued by urban lawmakers, who we’ve been talking about. What’s going to happen if we eliminate the state income tax is we’re going to see our property-tax rates dramatically increase. We’re going to be paying taxes on services, regressive taxes, taxes when we go and get our cars fixed.”

Whitley continued: “We had the ferry-toll battle. That’s an example of a regressive tax … The financial responsibility when you reduce the state income tax (shifts) … and somebody’s going to have to provide those services (now provided by the state). It’s going to be the counties and cities, and that’s why it’s bad for eastern North Carolina.


About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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