06/10/09 — Leaders divided on hikes in taxes

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Leaders divided on hikes in taxes

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on June 10, 2009 1:46 PM

Despite facing a nearly $4.6 billion budget gap, local representatives were reluctant Tuesday to embrace the nearly $940 million in tax increases being proposed by House Democratic leaders.

But, said Rep. Larry Bell, D-Sampson, because of the deep cuts being proposed, the increases are necessary.

"If they're in the budget, I will (vote for them)," he said. "You hope you don't have to raise any taxes, but when you're talking about laying off teachers, increasing classroom size ... everything I have worked for ... These were cuts like I'd never seen before."

Among the proposed increases are hikes on sales tax, expansion of sales tax to include some services, hikes on alcohol tax and an increase on income tax for top earners.

A proposed increase in taxes on cigarettes has been taken out of the budget, Bell said.

That was apparently thanks, in part, to an amendment proposed by Rep. Van Braxton, D-Lenoir, who said he still hasn't made up his mind how he will vote.

"I said I was not going to vote for any tax increase, and I'm not sure I will vote for a tax increase, but it's getting to a point that some of these cuts are so deep and so much it might be the lesser of the two evils," he said. "The fat has been cut out and now we're down to where we're cutting a lot of jobs and services. So it's an alternative we have to look at. I sure don't want to, but I'm not sure the other side is any better."

Hopefully, though, he and Bell said, such tax increases would only be temporary -- until the economy turns around and the state is out of its budget crisis.

"It depends on need. If things improve and the revenues come back, then certainly you roll the taxes back," Bell said.

But, they explained, because nobody knows when that might be, none of these taxes are expected to include sunset dates.

"In the past, when they said they were temporary and the economy didn't recover as fast as they had expected, things got worse. The anticipation is they will be temporary, but right now they're not going to come out and say (when) they will sunset," Braxton said.

Rep. Efton Sager, R-Wayne, however, was buying none of it.

Not only does he plan to vote against the budget and any included tax increases, he also doesn't believe Democrats will lower their new taxes when things get better.

"I will vote for none of these," he said. "History shows us that temporary taxes are permanent taxes. Very rarely do taxes ever come off once they come on."

Besides, he said, he doesn't believe Democrats ever intended to cut services such as education, public safety and health and human services as deeply as they had proposed.

"They were just getting people upset enough that they'd say 'raise our taxes,' and in fact we saw some school teachers up here saying just that recently," Sager said. "I don't think they had any intention of going that deep. They just didn't want to cut the budget. We could have cut everything across the board a certain percentage instead of these specific deep cuts."

But, he said, Republican ideas were not considered.

"Nobody listened to my ideas. I didn't have a chance to have any input in the budget, and I'm certainly not going to vote for something I didn't have any input on," he said.