Going, going, gone

by Kirk Ross

Going, going, gone

Some years ago, after reading a compendium of the state’s properties and noting various idle buildings, lands and other holdings, I was among those in favor of the idea of a commission of sorts to move some of these goods – burdens, often – in an orderly and mutually beneficial manner to both the private and public sector. Blinded as I was by the good common sense of unloading some of these properties, I neglected to consider two things. First, that politics – or, rather, it’s unseemly cousin, the good old boys ‘n’ girls network – might take over; and second, that one agency’s trash was another’s treasure leading to all sorts of squabbling.

What happened, to paraphrase Clemens on golf, was a good idea spoiled. And so less than three years after creating it, the legislature swiftly put an end to the State Property Commission. One big reason for the hurry was that there was evidence that the commission might actually start doing something.

Budget buzz

April revenues bring May budgets, which are then argued through June and possibly later thanks to a series of continuing resolutions. Such is nature.

This is that time of year when bees (what’s left of them) buzz, birds chirp and budget writers drop not-so-subtle hints about what to expect while waiting on the last round of revenue projections.

The first hint: Expect about $200 million less than what Gov. Mike Easley called for, most of that from new programs and expansion of others proposed by the governor.

Hint number two: It takes two – at least. Both the governor and the House leadership want to extend the sales tax and a higher bracket for the state’s wealthiest. While the guv wants that to go to tax relief for the lowest paid among us via a state earned-income tax credit, the House is leaning toward spending the money on education. On the Senate side, Majority Leader Tony Rand is proposing a sales tax swap with counties that would have the state take over Medicaid payments in exchange for local revenues from a 1 percent sales tax. Not a bad swap for most counties – especially the poorer ones. The complication is that cities could end up on the short end of the stick. Expect many difficult-to-decipher compound sentences regarding taxation in the not-too-distant future.

Not so difficult to decipher were Sen. Marc Basnight’s recent remarks about reconfiguring the tax code. Basnight told an interviewer last week that even though Sen. David Hoyle has studied what to do long and hard, there’s no stomach for a sweeping rewrite of the tax code. So, when it comes to taxes, no new ones are likely to be gored this session. Makes the other oxen nervous.

Land fallout

A proposed shift in landfill regulations has led to the withdraw of one particularly nasty project among the mega-landfills proposed. Officials from Sims Hugo Neu announced last week they would end their effort to build a massive auto “fluff” recycling landfill in the Brunswick County town of Navassa.

The company cited new regs from the state being drafted during this year’s moratorium on massive landfills as a disappointment. Not mentioned in the announcement, of course, is how political contributions by the company might have helped land Rep. Thomas Wright in hot water with state election officials.

Wright, an ally of former Speaker Jim Black, took in thousands in campaign contributions from the company execs last spring, but they didn’t get reported until after the Democratic primary.

Kicking myself

Don’t ya hate it when you get your snark on about the wrong massive real estate lobby? Last week I said the NC Homebuilders Association had launched an Astroturf campaign featuring a woman with no last name traveling the state to help stop a proposed real estate transfer tax. My bad. It’s the NC Association of Realtors doing the turf building.