Warren says budget deal may take time; voter ID, tax overhaul on the table

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 22, 2013

SALISBURY — At his town hall meeting Friday at the Rowan County Administration Building, N.C. Rep. Harry Warren said despite what you may have heard, the General Assembly isn’t deadlocked.
Instead, Warren said, “This is kind of a fun year.”
With about a dozen people joining him in the commissioners’ meeting room, Warren spent the first hour of the session discussing issues and fielding questions on everything from taxes to gun control.
As legislators continue to deliberate on the state budget, Warren said he doesn’t believe an agreement will be reached before the end of the fiscal year.
“We are trying to force tax revision and budgeting into conference committees so we can come out with a budget,” Warren said.
He expects that to happen “hopefully within the next two weeks … within the first seven to 15 days of July we’ll be out of there.”
Warren, the Republican legislator who represents Rowan’s District 77, told constituents about the large number of bills signed by Gov. Pat McCrory this past week.
In particular, Warren spoke of McCrory’s proposal to overhaul how transportation funds are spent — splitting revenues according to a different formula that would allot 40 percent to statewide projects and 30 percent each to local and regional priorities.
“What would make it (a project) a priority?” asked a woman in the audience.
Warren said that, for example, “bridges that are unsafe” might be considered priorities
On the topic of voter ID requirements, Warren said the U.S. Supreme Court decision announced Monday would not affect proposals in the General Assembly.
“That was more the registration process, where Arizona was requiring proof of citizenship,” Warren said.
“Ours focuses more on proof of identity, not on proof of citizenship,” he said.
Among the changes is a new statewide request form for absentee ballots, which Warren said requires a copy of the would-be voter’s state-issued photo ID to be sent in.
“The (new) request form requires a lot more validation of who’s requesting it and why. It also entails signatures for attestation under perjury,” Warren said.
Warren said there was lots of discussion about how voter ID requirements would impact citizens.
Audience members brought up concerns about the cost of issuing IDs to voters who could not afford to buy them. In response to an audience member’s statement that he had heard it could cost millions of dollars to issue IDs to poor voters, Warren said, “There’s numbers being thrown out all over the place.”
As for whether the problem of voter fraud was widespread enough to warrant such measures, Warren said, “What comes out in the bottom line is that there are still, at some point, places where you have to rely on people’s integrity and honesty.”
“We don’t always have to wait for something to happen to be proactive, to take a preventive measure against it happening,” Warren said a short time later in the discussion. “That’s the best way I can rationalize this here.”
Regarding a proposed law that would relax restrictions on concealed firearms for owners with a valid concealed-carry permit, Warren said that H.B. 937 “has gotten me more email than any bill in the years I’ve been up there,” Warren said.
He said that about 90 percent of those writing are in favor of relaxing concealed-carry restrictions and allowing permit holders more freedom.
Audience members joined Warren in debating one point of the bill, which would allow concealed-carry permit holders to bring their weapons into bars so long as the permit holder did not drink.
One audience member said that introducing guns into a situation where alcohol might be consumed could result in more altercations.
Ultimately, Warren said, “No matter what law is passed, and no matter what subject it is, it comes down to integrity, character and morality.”
Regarding possible changes to the tax system, Warren said there is “a difference of philosophy” regarding how those changes should be made. He compared changing North Carolina’s tax structure to “turning a ship at sea.”
“This has to be a transitional process, to go from one system to another … Whatever comes out of there is going to be phase one,” Warren said.
Warren said he favors a plan that does not eliminate corporate sales taxes, and that contains some taxes on services that are currently not taxed.
Rather than eliminating corporate income taxes, Warren said they should be lowered to “a competitive rate.”
“I believe corporations are corporate citizens, and as citizens, they should have some skin in the game,” Warren said.
He also spoke in favor of allowing some tax credits to expire, mentioning specifically the film tax credit, which he estimated would bring in $174 million if phased out.
“And then, it’s a strategic and thoughtful expansion into services where industry is already collecting sales tax,” Warren said.
For example, customers already paying sales tax on tires would now pay sales tax on the labor as well.
Warren said that such a measure is better than trying, for example, to add sales taxes to other services, such as haircuts or landscaping, where no tax is currently being collected.
Asked whether Democrats in the General Assembly have been contributing ideas to the debate, Warren said members of both parties “have dialogue … we do get along.”
On some issues, Warren said, there’s not formal dialogue between Republicans and Democrats, but “a lot of good points come up.”
“It’s not as cutthroat as you might think,” Warren said.

Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.