North Carolina GOP presses ahead with constitutional amendments

June 21, 2018 - 6:32 am

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Republicans pressed ahead Wednesday with proposed constitutional amendments for the November ballot, bidding to push favored issues and boost turnout by like-minded North Carolina voters in an election with key races for the legislature and Congress.

A state House committee agreed to a proposal that already passed the Senate last year asking voters to lower the cap on income tax rates set in the state constitution by nearly half. And the full Senate later backed overwhelmingly a proposal that would submit to voters whether they want an amendment designed to preserve the right of people to hunt and fish.

House Speaker Tim Moore also told colleagues he expected a floor vote early next week on a proposed amendment to enshrine in the state constitution a mandate that people must show photo identification to vote. A committee planned debate Thursday on the voter ID amendment. A 2013 voter ID law that contained no constitutional amendment got struck down by federal judges.

Moore said he expected as many as six amendments would be considered before the General Assembly adjourned its annual work session by the end of the month.

Putting issues on ballots could help Republicans get out the vote during a campaign season in which energized Democrats are aiming to end the GOP's veto-proof majorities in the legislature. Democrats are also targeting a few Republican congressional seats. Any amendment needs support from 72 House members and 30 senators to get on the ballot. A simple majority of voters is then needed to approve an amendment.

The Senate voted 44-4 to support a referendum for a constitutional amendment stating ``the right of the people to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife is a valued part of the state's heritage and shall be forever preserved for the public good.''

Supporters say the amendment, which still must be considered by the House, is about preserving the sporting traditions and the ability to consume what is hunted or harvested for future generations.

``The citizens of this state would continue to have the right to do what we've done for hundreds of years,'' Sen. Norm Sanderson, a Pamlico County Republican and bill sponsor, said during committee debate. The amendment, if approved, states the right wouldn't affect laws related to public safety or regulation of commercial activities.

The National Rifle Association and Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation spoke up for the idea. Similar language is enshrined in constitutions of over 20 states, according to NRA lobbyist Chris Kopacki, adding ``there have been misguided attacks across this county to impair or ban these traditions.'' But a few Democrats questioned aloud whether there was any immediate threat to hunting and fishing in the state.

``I still don't feel like this bill is necessary,'' Sen. Paul Lowe, a Forsyth County who still voted `yes' in the floor vote. ``I think this is a ploy for something else. I don't know what it is.''

The state constitution has had a 10 percent cap on income tax rates since the 1930s, but Republicans want it lowered to 5.5 percent in part to preserve their recent series of individual and corporate rate cuts. Come January, the corporate rate will fall from 3 percent to 2.5 percent and the individual rate will fall from 5.499 percent to 5.25 percent.

GOP legislators argue those cuts have help invigorate the state's economy, but critics have said it has prevented per-pupil public education funding and other services from returning to pre-recession levels. Sen. Tommy Tucker of Union County, a sponsor of the income tax cap bill, said a lower limit ``would institute some discipline for future legislatures to be able to try to hold down spending.''

Democrats on the House Rules Committee said they were worried the inflexibility could constrain lawmakers during the next recession by making it difficult to find additional revenue to close budget shortfalls. That could force lawmakers to cut spending more deeply, they said.

``I don't want to increase anybody's taxes,'' said Democratic Rep. Robert Reives of Chatham County, but ``if you're going to put a constitutional amendment in place capping one side then the necessary corollary is what happens with spending.''

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