Under the Dome

Dome: House and Senate leaders hope to strike deal on a major tax bill

From Staff ReportsJune 18, 2013 

House and Senate leaders are working behind the scenes with the governor to strike a deal on a major tax bill, aiming to avoid lengthy negotiations in a conference committee.

The Senate delayed a final vote on its tax bill Tuesday to accommodate the new approach. “We are hopeful we can reach some accommodations,” Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger told the chamber.

House and Senate lawmakers are moving the same direction to cut income taxes but the details of the two chambers’ plans are vastly different. If the Senate had taken the vote to give the bill a final stamp, as was expected, it would have returned to the House. The House likely would have rejected the new Senate version and forced a conference committee process.

Berger said he is hoping to short circuit the process and reach an accord now. He delayed it a day, though it is possible the two chambers could need even more time. Republican leaders from each chamber have been meeting for months on taxes but the two have yet to find common ground.

In an interview, Berger said he is leading the negotiations for the Senate but he refused to offer any specifics. Where are you drawing the line? he was asked. “Comprehensive tax reform,” Berger replied. What makes it comprehensive? “We’ll see when we get it,” he said.

As for criticism that the legislation doesn’t reflect actual tax “reform,” Berger sought to recast expectations. He said reform means legislation that reduces the tax burden on individuals and businesses and modifies the state’s tax structure.

House Speaker Thom Tillis, meanwhile, made clear Tuesday that the divide between the House and Senate tax plans remains a wide gulf.

In an interview, Tillis said the two chambers need to breach a philosophical divide – one that may take days, if not longer, to reconcile. His tone seemed to differ from Berger earlier in the day. “We are trying to change the mix in a way we believe will actually stimulate economic activity,” Tillis said. “I think the Senate is trying to do the same thing, but they have also focused on spending reductions – which we all want, but we need to do it at a pace that we can actually absorb.”

Tillis said House Republicans are concerned about cutting too deep into revenue needed for state spending priorities and hurting local governments, forcing them to increase property taxes.

As for the criticism that the Senate plan doesn’t represent tax “reform,” but merely a tax cut, Tillis said it’s “a valid question.”

Gov. Pat McCrory is involved in the discussions and is expected to play a key role after the legislation is approved. “We need the governor fully on board so he can communicate it and get people to understand it,” Tillis said.

Gun laws worry agencies

Two major law enforcement agencies oppose a sweeping gun bill approved by the Senate. The N.C. Sheriff’s Association and N.C. Association of Police Chiefs are concerned about a measure – House Bill 937 – that would loosen gun controls by repealing the requirement for a permit to buy a handgun and allowing guns in bars and on school property.

House lawmakers declined to concur on the Senate changes this week, sending them to the Rules Committee on Tuesday.

The chiefs association board listed three major problems with the bill. It opposes allowing concealed weapon permit holders to take firearms into places that serve alcohol; firearms on schools and college campuses; and the elimination of the pistol permit. Regarding the latter, the police chiefs said “elimination of this important background investigation prior to issuance of a pistol permit is detrimental to public safety.”

The sheriffs are only concerned about the language repealing permits to purchase pistols.

Staff writer John Frank

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