NC Republican legislators' impasse over competing tax plans affecting other state bills

jfrank@newsobserver.com lbonner@newsobserver.comJune 27, 2013 

State Sen. Phil Berger

COREY LOWENSTEIN — clowenst@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— The N.C. General Assembly is grinding to a halt as frustration mounts about Republican lawmakers’ inability to reach a consensus plan to cut taxes.

The impasse hits at a crucial time and now threatens other legislation, including bills to protect foster children and students riding school buses.

Hidden behind the scenes for days, the feud between GOP leaders escalated Thursday when the Senate took the unusual step of removing 41 House bills from its calendar, sending them to the clerk’s office and an indefinite future.

The House later announced it would not hold full sessions the week of July Fourth – meaning lawmakers will return to Raleigh on July 8, weeks after they had hoped to adjourn for the year.

To accommodate the delay, Gov. Pat McCrory signed a short-term spending plan Wednesday, known as a continuing resolution, to keep state government running for another 30 days at 95 percent of its current funding level.

House and Senate GOP leaders are working with the governor’s office to find a compromise plan to overhaul the state’s tax system and cut income tax rates after the two legislative chambers approved competing measures with broad differences.

With the talks appearing to break down, the Senate sought to raise the stakes. Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca asked to remove “anything that begins with an H,” from the Senate calendar, a reference to House bills.

The calendar included the N.C. School Bus Safety Act to increase penalties for passing a stopped school bus and the Foster Care Children’s Bill of Rights to protect those in the program from unsafe living conditions. Other measures caught in the crossfire include legislation to encourage military members to become teachers and a major environmental bill.

“I wouldn’t call it gamesmanship,” said Apodaca, a Hendersonville Republican. “I’d call it incentive to move forward so we can all go home.”

Apodaca said the Senate wants to move toward adjournment but the House is not moving as quickly in the same direction. The two chambers want to strike a tax deal and pass a $20.6 billion budget before adjourning for the end of the year, not to mention approve dozens of smaller bills.

State law doesn’t require lawmakers to end session by any specific date, but Republican leaders hoped to leave this week. Each day they remain in session costs about $50,000.

One impediment in the tax deal is apparently McCrory’s office. “It’s kind of difficult to negotiate with three bodies instead of two,” Apodaca said. “The House and Senate seem to do a pretty good job; sometimes it’s difficult to have to negotiate with the governor’s office.”

McCrory said Wednesday that he wants a tax plan that is closer to revenue neutral so it provides enough money for the government services he wants to prioritize. The House and Senate are moving toward a major tax cut.

One chamber refusing to vote on the other chamber’s bills is a common tactic used near the end of the legislative session or when the two chambers are engaged in difficult negotiations.

Rep. David Lewis, the lead Republican tax negotiator in the House, said he doesn’t see the governor’s office as a hindrance. And he called the Senate’s move a “disincentive.”

“This is an old institution, and there are very old political tricks, and we will continue to do this stuff long after both Sen. Apodaca and I are gone,” Lewis said.

Hours after the Senate ended for the week, the House came into session and Speaker Thom Tillis announced the chamber would hold no full sessions or committee meetings next week ahead of the holiday.

House Rules Chairman Tim Moore, a Republican, said the pause will allow negotiations on a new tax plan and budget to continue with fewer distractions.

For interest groups watching legislation, it leaves the end of session uncertain.

“I’m not sure what it means,” said Molly Diggins at the Sierra Club. “I don’t think anybody has any good idea what this legislature’s exit strategy is.”

Frank: 919-829-4698

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