06/19/09 — Local representatives' reaction to taxes mixed

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Local representatives' reaction to taxes mixed

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on June 19, 2009 1:46 PM

Local legislators were mixed in their reactions to Gov. Beverly Perdue's call Wednesday for $1.5 billion in new tax revenues, but most were skeptical as to whether the General Assembly would be willing to support such a dramatic increase.

Even a legislator like Rep. Larry Bell, D-Sampson, who said he likely would be supportive of a larger tax package, is unsure if one will be approved.

"I don't know where she's (Mrs. Perdue) going to get it from," he said. "Nobody wants to do this kind of thing. We had a hard enough time getting the small amount we did. It's not a matter of finding a place we can get it from, it's whether we can find the support in the legislature to do it."

Right now, though, he said, the House's revenue package -- which is larger than the Senate's --is just barely enough.

"We knew it wouldn't fill the holes. We just passed that to help us hold on. We could probably live with what we've done for another year or two, and hopefully the economy will get better, but if it doesn't, we need to think about some significant changes in the way we fund things. We made a lot of cuts. It'll take more money to fix it."

But whether that money will be available is the question right now.

"Anything is possible. I'm not just not sure the support is there for that," Rep. Van Braxton, D-Lenoir, said. "She (Mrs. Perdue) is trying to put together a package that would not cut any teachers. But it was hard enough in the House to pass the $784 million tax package. Most of us didn't want to support it, and I was one of two Democrats to vote against it.

"The plan just had a lot of parts I didn't like."

But he acknowledged that without new revenues, there will have to be deep cuts.

"We're between a rock and a hard place," he said.

And so he's not sure if he will support whatever new package is ultimately decided upon.

"I will look at it and see what it is and how it raises revenues," Braxton said. "I really don't know what I'll do."

The same is true for Sen. Don Davis, D-Greene, who was curious where exactly Mrs. Perdue would like to see those new revenues come from.

"I would like to know what the governor's proposition is. Everything I've read is that the governor is asking for a tax increase, but it doesn't say where," he said. 'Right now it's like walking in the dark."

Thursday night, though, House and Senate negotiators -- of which Davis is one -- began looking a variety of potential targets, including expanding the sales tax and adjusting the income tax. Davis, however, could not be reached for comment on those negotiations today before press time.

The county's Republican legislators, though, Rep. Efton Sager, R-Wayne, and Sen. David Rouzer, R-Johnston, are adamantly opposed to any tax increase.

"We just keep talking about more money. I think there are other ways," Sager said.

The problem, he explained, is that Mrs. Perdue promised during her campaign to be an education supporter and now is trying to back that up at the expense of the taxpayers.

"I support the governor that education should be the top priority. (But) I think we fund education enough. We need to look at more efficient ways of using that money, and if there are other parts of the state budget to cut, I'm all in favor of looking at those," he said. "We're hurting the families of the young people we're trying to educate."

For his part, Rouzer sees another motive underlying the Democrats' actions.

"I was not surprised (at the request)," he said. "In my judgment, the governor, from day one, has been trying to propose these Draconian cuts in all these high profile areas -- health and human services, education, public safety -- and I think part of the game plan has been to make the cuts so severe that they can be used to change public opinion on tax increases.

"And I fully expect at the end of the day that the Democrats will have a fairly sizable tax increase.

"I, of course, am very opposed to increasing taxes, particularly in this economy. When you take $1.5 billion out the private sector to fund the government at unsustainable levels, you're just impeding any chance of economic recovery.

"We ought to take a full accounting of all our government programs and prioritize, funding those that are the most efficient."