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Ex-House finance chair defends actions over NC tax bill

RALEIGH (AP) — The veteran North Carolina legislator removed as co-chair of the powerful House Finance Committee this week said on Wednesday that she disagrees with top chamber leaders who said she improperly delayed a tax relief bill.

Republican Rep. Julia Howard of Davie County defended her actions involving the measure, which was expected to receive another floor vote later Wednesday. She said she had been trying to refashion it so that Senate Republicans would give it a chance of becoming law.

The measure in part would give additional state tax breaks to businesses that took federal Paycheck Protection Program loans to weather the COVID-19 pandemic and spent the funds on business expenses so that their loans would be forgiven. Howard had voted against the bill last week.

“I was trying to do what I thought was right to fix the PPP bill so it would have a semblance of getting through the Senate,” Howard told The Associated Press in a brief interview.

Speaker Tim Moore on Tuesday removed Howard from the Finance Committee, where she was one of four senior co-chairs. Moore and two other top GOP chamber leaders said Howard hadn’t moved the measure “expeditiously” through her committee as the House Republican Caucus expected. Committee chairs, the GOP leaders said, “must be willing to put personal agendas aside.”

Howard, who has served in the House since 1989, told The News & Observer of Raleigh last week she felt pressured by Moore and others while questioning the ethics of colleagues who had received PPP loans and would benefit from the legislation. Her criticisms spilled over into a private caucus meeting and a news conference on the measure.

Moore and other bill supporters defended their legislative actions to advance the measure, pointing to longtime General Assembly ethics opinions because the bill’s result would apply equally to all PPP loan recipients.

The Finance Committee received the bill March 30 and was voted on by committee members April 13. Lawmakers didn’t conduct business the week of April 5.

In between, Howard said, she worked with a key senator and staff to come up with something “palatable” with the Senate. She said that’s in keeping with her 17-term legislative career: “All I’ve ever done is try to get things in good order.”

Howard acknowledged sending a voice mail message that “wasn’t favorable” to Moore when another House committee made a parliamentary maneuver on the bill.

Moore and Howard have been political rivals. When Moore became speaker in early 2015, he decided against keeping Howard as a finance chair, a position she had served in for the previous four years. Howard returned to the position later. She acknowledged that as speaker, Moore had the right to remove her.

Howard said she didn’t plan on voting for the bill Wednesday, even with new amendments that would extend the PPP tax break on business deductions to 2021 loans and would exempt from income taxes the first $10,200 of unemployment benefits filers received in 2020.

The PPP changes alone would cost several hundred million dollars from state coffers to cover. It’s unclear whether federal coronavirus relief money coming to North Carolina could cover that cost.