State Politics

NC House could put constitutional amendment on back burner

Senate leader Phil Berger wants voters to decide on a constitutional amendment limiting government spending and personal income taxes. “This is a reasonable curb on growth in government,” he said.
Senate leader Phil Berger wants voters to decide on a constitutional amendment limiting government spending and personal income taxes. “This is a reasonable curb on growth in government,” he said. hlynch@newsobserver.com

With a final vote Wednesday, the N.C. Senate is expected to approve a constitutional referendum to limit government spending and income taxes, less than a week after the proposal was introduced.

The proposed constitutional amendment would cap the state’s personal income tax rate at 5 percent. It would tie annual state budget spending increases to the rate of population growth and inflation. And it would create an emergency savings fund that could only be spent after a two-thirds majority vote in the legislature.

But don’t expect quick action in the House to put the proposed amendment before voters. The bill will likely be referred to the House Finance Committee, where Co-chairman Jason Saine says he has bigger fish to fry.

“We’ve had all session to consider all these grand ideas, and at the end of the day, our primary job is to get a budget and get out of here,” Saine said Tuesday. “We’re not even going to take it up until we get a chance to get these other issues squared away.”

Saine, a Republican from Lincolnton, said the idea of a “Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights,” or TABOR, merits consideration – at a later date. “Their idea is worth discussing, but that’s not as time-sensitive as the rest of the things we need to be working on,” he said.

Saine’s remarks came as the Senate took a preliminary 30-15 vote Tuesday on the bill along party lines. Before the vote, the date of the proposed referendum was moved from next year’s presidential primary to the Nov. 8, 2016, general election.

Sen. Brent Jackson, a Sampson County Republican and the bill’s sponsor, said controls on taxes and government spending should be part of the constitution.

“This bill demonstrates to the taxpaying citizens and residents of this state that we’re serious about being good stewards of public funds,” he said.

Democrats said they like the idea of a rainy day fund but said it could prove too hard to access in an emergency. “Having to have a supermajority to use the funds would be difficult at best,” said Sen. Jane Smith, a Lumberton Democrat. “Sometimes I think it would be difficult to get two-thirds of the House and Senate to agree on whether the sun was shining or not.”

To create the rainy day fund, the amendment would require that 2 percent of the prior year’s spending go to the fund, until the account balance totals 12.5 percent of the prior year’s budget.

“This is a reasonable curb on growth in government,” Senate leader Phil Berger said. “If you think all the problems we have in North Carolina can be solved by spending more money, then you won’t like this amendment.”

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