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Voinovich Will Greet Bush in Ohio, but Won't Change Stance on Taxes
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Voinovich Will Greet Bush in Ohio, but Won't Change Stance on Taxes

BY Carl Weiser

WASHINGTON -- Sen. George Voinovich and President Bush will come close enough to shake hands Thursday in Dayton, but they'll still be $ 200 billion apart. The two Republicans are at odds over how large a tax cut Congress should pass. Bush originally wanted a $ 726 billion tax cut over 10 years. Earlier this month, Voinovich and other moderate Republicans, worried about endless deficits, struck a deal with Senate leaders to keep Bush's proposed tax cut to $ 350 billion.

04/23/2003
Ohio Agrees: It's Time to "Ax the Double Tax";
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Ohio Agrees: It's Time to "Ax the Double Tax";

When the wheels of Air Force One touch down at Akron-Canton Regional Airport on Thursday morning, there will be a groundswell of grassroots support across Ohio in support of the President's plan to end the double taxation of dividend income. Five grassroots groups, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Citizens Against Government Waste, the National Taxpayers Union, 60 Plus Association, and the Seniors Coalition, are actively coordinating their activities in support of the President's tax cut plan. All combined, these groups have tens of thousands of members in the state of Ohio and form an informal coalition working to "Ax the Double Tax." As part of this coordinated effort, at 11 AM while the President meets with Ohio workers Thursday morning, Ohio citizens will converge on the Cleveland offices of Senator George Voinovich to rally for full and complete repeal of the dividend tax. CSE President Paul Becker said: "The Buckeye state wants to send a message to Senator Voinovich that it is critical to get real tax relief through the Senate. Full repeal of the dividend tax is the centerpiece of the President's tax relief proposal, and it will bring real benefits to the Ohio economy. "The Cleveland 'Ax the Double Tax' rally is part of an all-out effort by five different grassroots groups to promote the plan to get full repeal of the dividend tax. The President is focused on enacting tax relief to create jobs and get the economy moving again, and that issue is also the first priority for all of our members. We're working hard to get Senator Voinovich to support at least $550 billion in tax relief in the budget this year, and to support full repeal of the dividend tax."

04/23/2003
Hotel Subsidies Up In Downturn
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Hotel Subsidies Up In Downturn

BY J. Christopher Hain

As cities nationwide compete to lure conventioneers, financing for convention center hotels is drying up, and local governments are putting more public money into building them. Even so, some question putting public dollars into a venture that private investors consider too risky. One Texas study last month suggests government-financed hotels hurt existing hotels instead of attracting new conventioneers. Others argue that any public convention center project is doomed without a headquarter hotel. A study published last year in Economic Development Journal estimated the public sector provided nearly half of $3 billion spent to finance 20 major convention center hotels built since 1995. In West Palm Beach, the county-owned, 330,000-square-foot convention center is scheduled to open in November. The Related Cos., the developer expected to build the adjacent $70 million hotel, has made no progress toward constructing it. "It's going to be almost impossible to finance that hotel privately," said Bill Meyer, chairman of Meyer Jabara Hotels, which owns 27 hotels primarily along the East Coast. The Palm Beach County Convention Center will suffer without an adjacent hotel. Few hotels exist nearby - only one within walking distance. But since Sept. 11, 2001, financing for hotels of every kind has declined along with air travel, tourism and room bookings. "2002 was probably the worst year in the hospitality industry since the real estate crash of the early 1990s," Meyer said. "And 2003 is even worse." Additionally, the rates a West Palm Beach hotel can charge year-round are not enough to make a large, full-service hotel profitable because of the decreased demand during the summer, he said. "It becomes very difficult to make a profit without public subsidies," he said. Across the country, cities are getting into the convention game. Within Florida alone, the Palm Beach County Convention Center will face considerable competition. Orlando is expanding its Orange County Convention Center. And those who find Orlando too pricey can soon sign up at the Osceola County Convention Center and its 800-room hotel to be built just to the south of Orlando. In Texas, officials in Dallas and San Antonio are contemplating government-supported convention hotels. A study released last month by Citizens for a Sound Economy, a conservative think tank, concluded that the primary impact of tax-subsidized convention hotels is to hurt existing, privately financed hotels rather than to attract new conventions. What's more, a glut of new and expanded convention centers and a decline in nationwide attendance have made convention competition hectic, the study declared.

04/23/2003
The Texas Freedom Agenda
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Press Release

The Texas Freedom Agenda

For those Texans who support the principles of lower taxes, less government, and more freedom, we have a real opportunity in 2003 to affect policy change in our state. But we need your help. Our governor and Texas legislators on both sides of the aisle need to hear from you that Texans want to see these principles reflected in legislation this year. I hope that you will join with CSE to promote these important issues and work to defend our economic liberty.

04/23/2003
Rein in the Trial Lawyers
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Press Release

Rein in the Trial Lawyers

April 22, 2003 The Honorable Bill Frist Senate Majority Leader S-230 Capitol Building Washington, DC 20510-7010 Dear Majority Leader Frist, On April 10, 2003, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved bipartisan legislation, S. 274, the “Class Action Fairness Act of 2003.” Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE) supports this important civil justice reform measure, and on behalf of CSE’s 280,000 members, I urge you to expedite this bill for Senate consideration.

04/22/2003
Budget Would Curtail Land Buys
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Budget Would Curtail Land Buys

BY Bruce Henderson

The Clean Water Management Trust Fund, North Carolina's premiere source of land-conservation money, is once again the target of budget-slashing legislators. N.C. House members last week shaved 75 percent off the $100 million that, by state law, the fund is due. But the fund is also an example of this session's special brand of in-your-face environmental legislation. Some bills, for the first time in memory, have attempted to eliminate the jobs of "adversarial" state regulators. Others would place critical limits on key existing environmental laws. A provision attached to the House budget, for example, prevents trust-fund acquisitions in counties where state or federal governments own 40 percent or more of the land. Swain and Macon counties, site of one of the state's highest conservation priorities, fit that description. The trust fund board last week gave initial approval to a $6 million grant to help buy the 4,400 acres of wilderness there, along the Little Tennessee River. The trust-fund measure was later softened to allow acquisitions if county commissioners approve. Broad public support has greeted the purchase of the Needmore tract, as the mountain property is known, making the budget provision an unlikely handicap. Rep. Roger West, the Cherokee County Republican who sponsored the provision, said he's against more government acquisitions in mountain counties dominated by national forests and parks that are exempt from county property taxes. West made another point via legislation. This one was about state environmental officials, who he said are too slow to issue permits and too fast to levy fines. He sponsored a budget provision that would eliminate the job of a regional air-quality supervisor who fined a contracting company from West's district $78,000 last year. West said he filed the provision because Department of Environment and Natural Resources officials wouldn't discuss the fine with him. The House co-speakers killed his measure last week. West's name also appeared on a bill, sponsored by Rep. Connie Wilson, R-Mecklenburg, that would essentially fire two "adversarial" state wetlands officials. That measure will be withdrawn, West said. "It seems like they're not pro-environment but anti-progress," West said of the environmental officials. "I'm hearing from people in the mountains who can't get development projects done. It seems like there's a problem that needs to be looked into. They're holding up progress, and progress is something I like." Advocates haven't seen so many anti-environmental measures since 1995, when property-rights supporters threatened to block legislation, said Molly Diggins, state director of the Sierra Club. One possible explanation: A large number of new legislators and the unusual situation of co-speakers leading the House, she said, may give interest groups higher hopes of influencing lawmakers. Diggins attributes chafing over environmental permits, in part, to chronically understaffed state agencies. Permit fees, which help pay for staff, haven't increased since 1989. "Most often," Diggins added, "it's people not really wanting to abide by their permits." It's deja vu for some measures emerging this spring. Wilson sponsored a bill that requires state agencies to consider the economic impact of new rules on small business, and forbids state rules that are tougher than federal law. The last provision reminds old-timers of the so-called Hardison amendments, which forbade stronger state environmental rules than the feds' rules. The legislature repealed those limits in 1991. In the mid-1990s, responding to pollution from hog farms, the state adopted new tougher rules that Wilson's bill would have prevented. Property rights also bubbled up again this year, for the sixth time, by Diggins' count. A bill Wilson co-sponsored would make local governments pay "just compensation" for billboards or other structures they want removed. It also says giving billboard owners a period of years in which to remove their signs, a typical approach, doesn't count as compensation. The anti-tax group Citizens for a Sound Economy rallied around property rights in recent years as the state Environmental Management Commission moved toward requiring buffer zones on the Catawba River. It's now exhorting its members to attend public hearings on state stormwater rules, which CSE charges would be stricter than the federal government requires. "The environmental lobby and the EMC seem to have tremendous power, whether it's highways or buffers," said CSE state director Jonathan Hill. Bill Holman, a longtime environmental lobbyist and former DENR secretary, said the environment is usually in the middle of a legislative tug-of-war. Now executive director of the Clean Water fund, Holman said he doesn't detect a backlash as much as a need to educate House members about the importance of environmental programs. Last year, state law called for the fund to get $70 million a year. Statewide cutbacks reduced the appropriation to $66.5 million. State law says the appropriation is supposed to rise to $100 million for each of the next two fiscal years. The House budget set it at $25 million. The Senate still must act. The fund is reviewing about $100 million in grant requests, including projects to clean up Charlotte's Little Sugar Creek, protect the city's water intake and buy shoreline on the South Fork Catawba River. Holman expects new requests totaling a similar amount later this year. The state needs to spend $176 million more each year to reach its goal of conserving 1 million acres by 2010, says a new study by UNC Chapel Hill's Environmental Finance Center. "It's hard times" in the state budget, Holman said. "But I think it also shows we have work to do in the House to make investments in clean water more important."

04/20/2003
Tax Day Tally
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Press Release

Tax Day Tally

April 15th has come and gone and the issue of paying taxes may be losing its urgency for many. But in Washington, taxes remain an important topic of conversation, with President Bush and the Congress still hammering out the budget for next year. The president is pushing for a significant tax cut, but Congress has balked, with the Senate proposing to reduce the $726 billion tax cut proposal to $350 billion. Beyond the size of the government’s take, the complexity of the tax code also has sparked discussions on the future of tax policy in America. The tax code has grown so complex and so riddled with special interest loopholes that a real debate over fundamental tax reform is beginning to emerge.

04/18/2003
A 'Reformed Drunk' on Tax Relief
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Press Release

A 'Reformed Drunk' on Tax Relief

This op-ed originally ran in the The Wall Street Journal on April 18, 2003. Copyright The Wall Street Journal Our newspapers and television screens are filled with stories of combat and victory, images of empty torture chambers and cheering crowds, and concerns about what happens next, after all the statues and bullies have fallen into the Iraqi dust. This is understandable and proper. Issues of war and peace always come first. But very soon it will be time to emphasize our economy here at home.

04/18/2003
House's Tax Writers Choose to Resist Reductions
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House's Tax Writers Choose to Resist Reductions

BY Tim Simmons

Unwilling to increase state taxes on cigarettes, House lawmakers charged with assembling a balanced budget chose instead Tuesday to delay reductions in the sales tax and income taxes adding up to $ 384 million. The decision paves the way for the full House of Representatives to begin debate today on a $ 15 billion budget and greatly improves the chances of the bill reaching the Senate by the end of the week. The tax package crafted by the House Finance Committee would delay for two years a half-cent reduction in the sales tax, keeping it at 4.5 cents, and a half-percentage point reduction in the income tax rate -- from 8.25 percent to 7.75 percent -- for residents in the highest income tax bracket. Delaying the tax reductions was part of a plan put forward by Gov. Mike Easley in his recommended budget. The House panel, however, did not go along with other parts of Easley's plan. Those provisions would have delayed an increase in the child tax credit and delayed an increase in the standard deduction to eliminate the "marriage penalty" for couples who file tax returns jointly. During hours of debate Tuesday, members of the House tax-writing panel began arguing the merits of raising the cigarette tax by 45 cents and ended with an agreement to delay the planned tax reductions. As legislators debated the issue inside committee rooms, an antitax group, Citizens for a Sound Economy, rallied outside the Legislative Building. Rep. Paul Luebke, a Durham Democrat, said the key step in keeping the budget talks on schedule occurred Monday evening when Democratic House Speaker Jim Black invited several supporters of the tobacco tax into his office. At the meeting, Luebke told the speaker that at least a half-dozen members of the Finance Committee wanted a fair shot at winning approval for a cigarette rate hike before taking up other tax measures. Black agreed. Tuesday afternoon, supporters from health advocates to clergy lined up to support the bill, most saying a decrease in teen smoking that a tax increase would trigger made the proposal worthwhile regardless of budget implications. "This has nothing to do with being Republican, Democrat, conservative or liberal," said Jim Goodmon, chief executive of Capitol Broadcasting, which owns area CBS and Fox affiliates. "This isn't about politics. Kids are dying over this. If you had a billion-dollar surplus, you should be doing this." Opponents said they feared an increase could actually decrease revenue by driving down purchases in border counties and eliminating sales to out-of-state visitors who stop along North Carolina's highways specifically because tobacco is cheap here. Others said it wasn't the job of the lawmakers to force others to make healthy choices. "I didn't hear anybody mention personal responsibility in this debate," said Rep. Billy Creech, a Republican from Clayton. "What's next? Obesity is a problem. Maybe we ought to think about a tax of 50 cents on a burger or a Big Mac." Lacking the votes to win, the sponsor of the cigarette tax, Rep. Jennifer Weiss, a Cary Democrat, withdrew her bill. "We wanted a fair debate before we would lend our support to any other options. We got that debate," Luebke said afterward. Luebke and Weiss were not happy with the outcome, but both felt they had made progress merely by persuading lawmakers to consider a cigarette tax hike. North Carolina's tax on a pack of cigarettes was last increased in 1991. Only Kentucky and Virginia have lower rates. An increase to 50 cents a pack would generate about $ 260 million a year. After a brief afternoon recess, the House tax panel voted 22-13 to delay the tax reductions. Children's advocates complained that the spending plan still leaves them as much as $ 800 million short in critical areas, but no lawmaker suggested a larger tax package. Republicans offered little serious opposition, with some suggesting openly that they knew there was little they could do to stop the proposal. Without the votes to defeat the proposal, opponents were reduced to questioning and criticizing a variety of smaller fees of less than $ 250. The fees cover such services as day-care licensing, emergency medical services licensing and oversight of health-care facility construction. Rep. Sam Ellis, a Raleigh Republican, offered the only seriously debated amendment, which would have relieved EMS providers of additional fees by increasing the proposed fees to 16 hospitals or clinics authorized to perform abortions. His proposal would have raised fees to clinics from $ 700 each to $ 4,562 each. Ellis' amendment failed 16-19. "There are some things in this bill that I don't like either," said Rep. Joe Hackney, a Democrat from Orange County. "But it's the time of year when you get a proposal that's reasonably acceptable to most everyone, and you go with it." Tuesday night, the Rules Committee merged the spending and revenue plans into a budget bill that the full House will debate today. But Black and Republican Speaker Richard Morgan did some tinkering with the spending plan. They restored $ 590,000 that had been cut from the Center for Death Penalty Litigation. The center uses the money to train and assist private lawyers and public defenders representing poor people facing the death penalty. They also removed about $ 90,000 in cuts to economic development programs in the Commerce Department that assist minorities. Action on the state budget, which is about $ 700 million more than the current year's, is coming this legislative session much more quickly than in recent sessions. For those unaware of the typically glacial pace, Rep. David Miner, a Cary Republican, offered a history lesson before introducing the revenue package early in the evening. "It is April, and the House has a budget bill," he said. "This hasn't happened in 20 years." ### Staff writer Dan Kane contributed to this report. ### DELAY TAX CUTS? THEY WOULD A $ 15 billion spending plan expected to be voted on today by the state House proposes delaying tax cuts that would have taken place July 1. The plan would: - Delay a half cent reduction in the state's sales tax, keeping it at 4.5 cents for two years. Cost to taxpayers in the next fiscal year: $ 346.5 million. - Delay a half-percentage-point reduction in the state income tax rate -- from 8.25 percent to 7.75 percent -- for residents in the highest income tax bracket for two more years. The bracket covers individuals earning $ 120,000 or more and couples earning $ 200,000 or more. Cost to taxpayers in the next fiscal year: $ 37.5 million. ### Staff writer Dan Kane contributed to this report. ### PROPOSED FEE INCREASES Here are fee increases included in the state House of Representatives' spending plan. Except for the new ferry tolls, all fees would begin in the new fiscal year beginning July 1. - TOLLS FOR FERRIES. Four state ferries would begin charging tolls: Hatteras-Ocracoke, Bayview-Aurora, Cherry Branch-Minnesott and Currituck-Knotts Island. The tolls would be in the range of what three other ferries already charge, $ 1 for pedestrians to $ 45 for large vehicles. The new ferry tolls would start July 1, 2004. - LICENSING FEES for hospitals, nursing homes and group homes. The health-care facilities would pay license and regulatory fees between $ 250 and $ 950, and nearly all would pay an additional fee of $ 12.50 per bed. They also would face new construction fees, ranging from 10 to 20 cents per square foot. Family care homes and group homes would be assessed construction fees ranging from $ 100 to $ 275. - EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICE FEES. EMS personnel would pay a $ 90 credentialing fee. EMS providers would pay an annual $ 50 license fee per vehicle. EMS dispatch programs would pay $ 185 annually. Volunteer providers and personnel would be exempted. - CHILD-CARE LICENSING FEES. Child-care centers would pay an annual licensing fee ranging from $ 35 for those with fewer than 13 children to $ 400 for those with more than 100 children. - PAP SMEAR FEES. Local health departments and other state facilities would pay an additional $ 7 to have pap smear analysis conducted by the N.C. State Laboratory of Public Health. - OFF-ROAD DRIVING. People wanting to drive off-road vehicles at the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area would pay a $ 40 annual fee.

04/16/2003
Measure WOuld Keep Sales-Tax Rate
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Measure WOuld Keep Sales-Tax Rate

BY Eric Dyer

North Carolinians would not see a promised drop in the sales tax this summer under a measure that a legislative panel approved Tuesday. The House Finance Committee endorsed a $384 million tax package that is needed to float a $15 billion budget plan sailing to the General Assembly. The revenue bill delays for two years a half-percent decrease in the levy on sales now planned to take effect July 1. It also keeps an 8.25 percent income-tax bracket for the wealthiest residents that had been scheduled to disappear after this year. Democratic Gov. Mike Easley recommended these changes in his budget proposal last month. He also wanted lawmakers to postpone a pair of tax breaks - increases in the credit per child and standard income-tax deduction for married couples - but the House committee has refused. "That will make sure we have the money to balance the budget, while at the same time providing tax relief for the working people of this state," said state Rep. David Miner, R-Wake, a House Finance Committee chairman who sponsored the bill. House members also are stepping away from Easley's proposal to cut about $20 million intended to help cover money that local governments lost when the legislature stopped reimbursing them for repealed inventory taxes. Some lawmakers wanted to jack up North Carolina's excise tax on cigarettes to 50 percent per pack. That bill got an airing in the finance committee, but it was pulled without a vote after facing hostile reaction. Proponents offered the hike as a way not only to raise revenue during a tight economy but also to erode the number of people - particularly teenagers - who take up the unhealthy habit. They cited statistics that show smoking declines when the cigarette price goes up. "We want to do something to protect our children," said Peg O'Connell of N.C. Alliance for Health. Legislatures across the nation have turned to stiffer taxes on cigarettes to bridge gapping budget deficits. While a politically safe move elsewhere, it has little traction in tobacco-dependent North Carolina. The state charges a 5 cent tax per pack, and only Virginia and Kentucky impose lower levies. Business interests and many lawmakers were scornful of an effort to target a homegrown industry that provides many well-paying jobs. Roger Bone, a lobbyist for Greensboro-based Lorillard Tobacco Co., said teenagers likely would shift to cheaper brands if the state imposed a higher levy, undercutting any effort to reduce youth smoking. A larger tax also could hurt the sale of cigarettes to tourists who stop in North Carolina for the less-costly smokes, said Rep. Bill Daughtridge Jr., R-Nash. He said that bargain attracts people to pull off the highway and spend money, much like they do to buy fireworks in South Carolina and oranges in Florida. "We have to have a reason for them to stop," Daughtridge said. Meanwhile, about 250 members of an anti-tax group gathered for a rally outside the Legislative Building. Jonathan Hill, state director of Citizens for a Sound Economy, told the crowd that lawmakers are again hitting up the people to address their fiscal irresponsibility.

04/16/2003

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