GOP at odds for final adjustment
RALEIGH — A disagreement between Republican lawmakers about their goals and the role of government is adding to the extended wrangling over the final few measures before the North Carolina General Assembly decides when to shut down for the year.
Legislators grappled again Monday with a multi-part measure that includes county sales taxes, tax benefits for a Haywood County paper mill, expanded tax breaks for new businesses and a proposed $20 million fund to lure manufacturers with upfront cash.
The Senate has insisted on House passage of the bill before it will allow a fix to a problem in the state budget Gov. Pat McCrory signed last week that threatens to force layoffs of classroom teaching assistants.
Republicans command large legislative majorities. GOP lawmakers meeting in committee disagreed over whether the sprawling bill fosters corporate welfare or encourages jobs, and whether it limits county sales taxes or prompts them to rise. Dissident Republicans last week defied House leaders and fought against bringing the bill to a vote.
The measure places a 2.5 percent cap on county sales taxes, with some exceptions for four urban counties. Wake, Mecklenburg, Forsyth and Guilford counties could increase to 2.75 percent if voters approve. But some Republicans worried the measure would increase the likelihood that county commissioners elsewhere will seek to raise their sales taxes to the cap. That could be viewed as GOP lawmakers violating their anti-tax principals, said Rep. Mike Stone, R-Lee.
"That's an issue for sure," he said.
Meanwhile, Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, said a proposal to offer selected corporations upfront taxpayer money if they will move to the state is an unacceptable corporate benefit. The new $20 million incentive fund would be left to the sole discretion of one of McCrory's appointees.
The conservative interest group Americans for Prosperity urged Republican legislators to reject the proposal along with the other business incentives in the legislation.
"There is a distinct difference between being a conservative and being a Republican," AFP state director John Dudley said in an emailed statement. "Anyone who advocates and votes in favor of more crony capitalist programs is at serious odds with fiscal conservatism."
Another provision in the bill would give the largest industrial employer west of Asheville $12 million in aid from taxpayers to keep it from closing. The Evergreen Packaging paper mill in Haywood County, which employs about 1,000, must replace two coal-fired boilers with natural gas-powered units costing $50 million.