The N.C. House voted 96-18 Wednesday in favor of restore a tax credit for historic preservation projects, despite a few objections from Republicans.
A final vote is Thursday.
House Bill 152 would create a scaled-back version of the tax credit, which expired at the beginning of the year as part of a Republican-led tax reform effort. The new credits would pay property owners less than the original program, with an expected annual cost to the state of $8 million. The available credit would be larger in the state’s poorest counties.
Gov. Pat McCrory has made the program a major legislative priority this session.
“This is a huge economic boon for the state of North Carolina, and we can see it in all our communities as we travel around,” said Rep. Stephen Ross, a Burlington Republican and the sponsor of the bill.
Fuquay-Varina Mayor John Byrne said Wednesday “there’s some good common sense” to restore the credits. He renovated historic buildings in downtown Fuquay-Varina after receiving thousands of dollars in tax credits.
“All the money goes into helping towns and counties in North Carolina,” he said. “So it’s not like the money goes somewhere else. It’s invested right back into dilapidated properties, or you’re extending the life of a property where there’s already infrastructure.”
Byrne, the mayor since 2001, began buying and renovating historic buildings in 1992. Those included a hotel and a palatial home on Main Street, which he turned into the Ben Wiley Apartments and the Fuquay Mineral Spring Inn and Garden, respectively.
Susan Kluttz, secretary of Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, visited Fuquay-Varina and Apex earlier this year to see how the towns had taken advantage of the historic tax credit program.
Opponents of the program say lower tax rates across the board are a better way to expand the economy. But Ross said a legislative study found that the historic credits have generated 2.5 times as many jobs as an across-the-board tax cut with the same cost.
Byrne added that the credits only are available to rent-producing projects, such as shops or apartments, not just homeowners restoring a building. He cited downtown Durham’s success in fixing buildings with the assistance of the tax credits, which have generated shops, restaurants and tourism.
“You have to create income,” said Byrne, who said he spoke to McCrory at the recent North Carolina Main Street conference about the tax credit program. “You know, it’s not a giveaway program.”
Because renovating a historic building is more costly than new construction, Ross said the projects likely won’t happen without the tax credit.
“That would be a huge lost opportunity, especially for economically depressed small towns that are rich in history but low in wealth,” Ross said.
Rep. Jeff Collins, a Rocky Mount Republican, said he can’t support the proposal unless local governments are required to match the credits.
“I don’t see any local commitment here, and that’s always really bothered me,” he said.
Rep. Bert Jones, a Reidsville Republican, also opposed the bill because he said poorer communities would be better off with a grant program that allows them to choose what projects would benefit them.
Byrne said programs already are in place at the county level for restoring landmark buildings that require a town match.
The bill faces a challenge in the Senate.
Will Doran contributed to this report.