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Black Ponders Risk on Tax Plan

BY Wade Rawlins
by Wade Rawlins on 7/27/01.

House Speaker Jim Black on Thursday weighed whether to risk bringing a proposed $ 440 million tax package before the full House next week while Republicans organized opposition to defeat the proposal.

Black, a Democrat from Matthews, said he'll decide by the time lawmakers return Monday night whether to bring up the tax-increase package for a floor vote or include it with the budget. If he makes it part of the budget, lawmakers would have to vote against the entire budget to vote against the tax increase.

"I'll have a better feel Monday night who is on board and who is not on board," Black said.

Black told reporters that a defeat of the tax package would back budget writers into a corner. He said that the decision was a procedural one and that typical people weren't interested.

"What people back home are concerned about is protecting the state's bond rating, improving education, things like that," Black said.

Budget writers have been struggling to craft a balanced budget for the fiscal year that is nearly a month old because revised revenue growth projections have created a $ 167 million hole in the plans the House and Senate previously passed. They must raise more revenue or make more cuts in spending.

Meanwhile, the state Republican Party and an anti-tax group, Citizens for a Sound Economy, planned to stage a "Tar Heel Tea Party" in front of the Legislative Building on Tuesday to express opposition. Broadcasting live from the rally, according to the groups, will be local talk radio personalities, Jerry Agar of WPTF and Mike Finley of WSJS.

"Republicans are equal-opportunity opponents of more taxes on the citizens of North Carolina, no matter what group takes the hit," said the Republicans' state party chairman, Bill Cobey.

House Republicans said they oppose any effort to move the tax bill straight into the budget conference committee, thereby avoiding a direct vote on the House floor.

But House Minority Leader Leo Daughtry, a Republican from Smithfield, said there is little the GOP can do except appeal the speaker's ruling. Overturning such a ruling would require a two-thirds majority, which Daughtry acknowledged he couldn't possibly muster.

"Of course we'll vote against the budget," Daughtry said. "I'm not afraid to do that. And we'll ask others to vote against it, too."

Meanwhile, the state House voted 113-1 for a resolution to continue government running through Aug. 29 after Democrats defeated an attempt by Republicans to force a vote on releasing raises for state workers and teachers before lawmakers finish work on the budget.

In procedural maneuvering, Black ruled out of order the salary proposal by Rep. John Blust, a Greensboro Republican.

Blust argued that the pay raises of teachers and state workers were caught up in partisan political wars. The continuing resolution, which returns to the Senate for consideration, would freeze the automatic 5 percent raises given to about 480 state troopers as well as the annual step raises of roughly 5 percent given to 2,150 assistant and deputy clerks of court. It also would freeze automatic step raises given to 720 magistrates.

Rep. David Redwine, a Democrat from Ocean Isle Beach, said teachers and state workers would get raises retroactive to July 1 when the budget is finished. He said those who get automatic raises in addition to cost-of-living raises should wait, too.

The continuing resolution also provided $ 36 million for the state health plan to continue operations.