Tillis: I'll ask ethics panel to review loans

jfrank@newsobserver.comNovember 17, 2011 

— House Speaker Thom Tillis said Wednesday that he would ask a legislative ethics committee to review a complaint against a fellow Republican lawmaker who made controversial loans to himself and other legislators.

The referral came after House Democratic leader Joe Hackney called for a special legislative commission to investigate Rep. Stephen LaRoque, a Kinston Republican facing questions about whether he violated federal tax laws or ethics policies by using his nonprofit to give loans to two lawmakers and a $200,000 no-interest loan to his own for-profit business, which went unreported on his tax return. LaRoque has denied any improprieties.

Speaking after a town hall forum in Morrisville, Tillis made no direct comments on LaRoque's actions.

"We'll have the legislative committee on ethics look at it and decide on whether it's in their purview," he said. "If not then we'll determine what action, if any, that we'll take."

The speaker's town hall - the latest in a statewide tour that is raising questions about Tillis' future political ambitions - attracted about 75 people who came with specific and often personal questions about state laws affecting them, such as disability care and local road congestion.

On the disability issue, a state employee questioned Tillis about remarks he made in a previous town hall in which he suggested the state "find a way to divide and conquer" people on public assistance.

The questioner told Tillis he was offended by the remarks and asked why the legislature wasn't focused on job creation.

Tillis repeated his mea culpa that he made a "poor word choice" but stood by his point, saying the state faces a "fiscal crisis of historical proportions," and limited dollars need to be closely evaluated.

The speaker then pivoted to jobs issue, reciting a number of regulatory and tax reforms the GOP-led legislature made to help spur economic growth.

He also took a swipe at Democrats who complained about returning to Raleigh for three additional special sessions before May. Tillis said if Democrats withdraw those objections, he is open to working with them on jobs. "If the members of the minority party have jobs ideas and they want to take them up, I'm happy to do that," Tillis said.

However, he ruled out a plan supported by a majority of House Democrats to raise the sales tax by 7/10ths of a cent to support education and government jobs. "(The plan) calls for about an $800 million tax increase - bad timing," he said.

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