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Vinroot Pitches No Tax Pledge

BY Scott Mooneyham
by Scott Mooneyham on 3/27/02.

State lawmakers are once again being asked to put their name on a promise not to raise taxes, with the latest effort organized by a former Republican gubernatorial candidate.

Richard Vinroot and his Foundation for America's Future challenged all state lawmakers on Tuesday to sign the no-tax pledge, a year after the Legislature raised taxes by $440 million. So far, 23 of 170 have complied.

"I think it's going to be important if we are going to have more jobs and less government," the former Charlotte mayor said.

Last year, the Legislature raised a range of taxes - including the state sales tax, the income tax on the wealthy, long distance telephone taxes and a tax on liquor. The increases, approved with just one Republican vote in the House, help raise revenue in a softening economy that had slowed tax collections.

Even with the tax hikes, Gov. Mike Easley is having to cut state agency budgets again to address a budget shortfall in the current fiscal year expected to reach $900 million.

Lawmakers are faced with a similar scenario for the next budget year, but are not expected to consider any broad tax increases with elections looming in the fall.

Even so, Vinroot said he does not want to see talk of government efficiencies and loophole closings turn into tax hikes.

"It's awfully easy to say, 'We're going to raise taxes and solve your problems,"' he said.

Vinroot's foundation is not the first to push a no-tax pledge.

Last year, 62 House members and 18 senators signed a no-tax pledge circulated by the anti-tax group Citizens for a Sound Economy. That pledge covered the two-year legislative session through 2002.

The group is circulating another no-tax promise this year, and has received about 50 signatures so far, said state director Jonathan Hill.

This year, CSE is also asking legislators to sign a pledge not to vote for any legislation that would take property without just compensation, a response to new stream buffer rules that are going into effect in the western part of the state.

The group will make the list public at a series of rallies around the state beginning April 1.

Hill said he sees nothing wrong with Vinroot asking for similar commitments.

"Certainly, if anybody has a group that wants to hold them accountable, that 's fine with us," Hill said.

Fourteen Democrats who voted for a budget that included the tax increase signed CSE's pledge last year. Several later publicly called the decision to sign a mistake.

A memo from Senate leader Marc Basnight, D-Dare, encourages legislative Democrats not to sign the CSE pledge this year.

"In my opinion, by signing a pledge that is sent to you by one individual representing one organization, you limit your own ability to fully represent the interests of the citizens of your district," Basnight said.

All 23 legislators who signed Vinroot's pledge are Republicans.

Vinroot, who lost to Easley in the 2000 general election, dismissed notions that he is using the pledge to gain publicity for another run for office.

"Who knows what any of us are going to be doing in two years," Vinroot said. "This is not going to go away, though, regardless of whether I run for governor. "