When a legislator disappears for a controversial vote, it's called "taking a walk."
And after Rep. Tracy Walker, a Republican from Wilkesboro, failed to show up Thursday for a vote on a $322 million tax package, some folks in Raleigh suspect that Walker is aptly named.
"I haven't talked to him, but I'd sure like to know why he didn't vote on that particular bill," said Jon-athan Hill, the director of the state chapter of Citizens for a Sound Economy, a group for whom Walker signed an anti-tax pledge. "One way or the other, the voters deserve for him to be there to vote on it."
The House gave tentative approval Thursday to a plan that would let counties impose a half-cent sales tax next January, at the same time that a state half-cent sales tax disappears.
To raise money for the state, the plan would put off two tax breaks - one for married couples and one for taxpayers with children - that legislators approved last year.
It would also raise $101 million for the state by closing several so-called corporate-tax "loopholes" and raise $38 million by not adopting federal rules for depreciation of business investments.
The measure passed, 84-26. But Walker was one of just two members recorded as present but not voting.
The other, Rep. Pete Oldham, D-Forsyth, was attending a funeral in Winston-Salem on Thursday and said yesterday that he forgot to ask to be excused from the day's session.
Oldham said he would have voted for the tax plan, which members debated for two hours on the House floor. "No doubt about it," he said.
Eight other members - including Rep. Bill Hiatt, R-Surry - were granted excused absences for Thursday's session.
Walker was recorded as voting on every bill on the House calendar except the tax bill.
"I was sitting there for two hours and hadn't moved ... and I got up and went to the bathroom and got me a Coke and missed the vote," Walker said. "I had no intention of missing the vote whatsoever.... I would have voted for it."
Walker said that he was anguished last week over an earlier version of the sales-tax plan that would have raised sales taxes across the state to 7 percent for a year.
Walker, who spent 18 years as a Wilkes County commissioner, told commissioners from Alexander County, which he also represents, that he would vote for the earlier plan.
But he was also pressured by fellow Republicans to vote against it, and he remembered that he had signed the pledge not to raise taxes. So he voted against the earlier plan.
"I changed my mind," he said last week. "I hate that I made remarks and then changed my mind.... It was almost like lying to them."
Hill, of Citizens for a Sound Economy, said yesterday that he wants to know why Walker missed the vote this week.
"I sure didn't take a walk, and I don't intend to skirt anything. They can believe it or not.... I intended to make up for my vote before," Walker said, referring to the vote against the earlier plan. "I hate I missed a vote, but you know, I can't change that now."
A final House vote on the tax package is scheduled for Monday night. Among Republicans present for the vote Thursday, 27 voted for the tax package and 26 voted against it.
House Minority Leader Leo Daughtry, R-Johnston, said that the Republican caucus didn't bind its members to a particular position.
"A lot of our members wanted to help local governments. They were glad to see a compromise reached between local governments and the Democrats," Daughtry said. "And some of our members were against raising taxes."
Though the latest plan doesn't raise sales taxes, Citizens for a Sound Economy considers it a tax increase, Hill said, because it would raise corporate taxes and put off $51 million in tax relief - an increased tax credit for children and elimination of the so-called "marriage penalty" for couples.
"It's a tax increase any way you cut it," he said.
As for putting off tax breaks that legislators approved last year for families, "It was definitely a promise that they made," Hill said. "Those were the people who need it the most."
Walker faces a primary contest with Roger Smithey, a former Wilkes County commissioner and former chairman of the Wilkes GOP. Smithey said yesterday that Walker should have been there for the tax vote.
"You should be there regardless," Smithey said. "I'm not going to shirk my duty. I'm not going to walk on anything.
"If you're there, you should be present unless you're sick or have an excuse to be absent," he said. "You shouldn't walk."