NC House candidate pressed to exempt real estate industry from tax reform

NC House candidate Debra Conrad (center) with fellow candidate Ed Hanes Jr.

We’re reporting today about a remark by Republican state House candidate Debra Conrad drawing a link between campaign cash raised to help candidates in more difficult races get elected and committee assignments. The remark was made yesterday during a campaign event hosted by the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce.

Jordan Shaw, communications director for House Speaker Thom Tillis, has denied that there is any such connection.

Conrad didn’t say where she got the notion that candidates that raise significant funds to help their peers are rewarded with choice committee assignments. When pressed on the question, she said, “I’m feeling the pressure that it could be an association.”

She also said, “I hope that I don’t disappoint [Tillis]. It’s more of a team mentality. If you don’t make the goals, you don’t get to play as much. It’s no criticism of the speaker; I just think that’s the way it is.”

The admission of at least a perception that raising money for the party translates into power and influence in the House’s committee structure raises the question of whether private business interests dictate important policy decisions on issues such as taxation and regulation. These decisions impact which sectors of society, industries or business segments bear the burden of paying for government services.

Conrad’s remark yesterday was bracketed between exchanges with Lou Baldwin, president of the NC Association of Realtors, during one of series of encounters the chamber billed as “speed dating,” in which one or two candidates spent 15 minutes at one table before a bell was rung and they moved on to the next.

Throughout the sessions candidates had spoken about the likelihood that in the next session the NC General Assembly will modernize the tax code, expanding it to include services. The tax code was last amended in the 1920s when the economy was based on manufacturing and agriculture, and is widely viewed as outdated. 

Baldwin wanted Conrad’s assurance that modernization of the tax code would not include a tax on land transfers, although her previous comments had indicated she leaned against it. 

“On tax modernization, taxing services — in the next sentence you said a land transfer tax impedes the sale of real estate,” Baldwin said. “Can we go ahead and exempt that?” 

Conrad responded, “I would think so, but I’m kind of biased because I’m a licensed realtor.” 

She added that in light of the need to allow the housing market to recover she doesn’t think it’s a good idea to impose any taxes that would impede real estate sales. 

Following Conrad’s remark about a perceived connection between raising money for other candidates and committee assignments, Baldwin pressed his issue again. 

“You’ll go down there with the perspective of maybe expanding taxes on services but trying to do no harm to the recovery of real estate?” he asked. 

“Oh, absolutely,” Conrad responded. She added that she views the collapse of the residential real estate market not as being caused by the real estate market, but by the mindset that everyone should own a home without understanding the consequences of not taking responsibility for a mortgage. 

Baldwin emphasized the importance of his industry by telling Conrad that the real estate industry has helped the nation recover from the last several recessions. 

Conrad also told the handful of people at the table that she once accompanied representatives of Reynolds American on a trip to Raleigh to lobby against a tax increase on tobacco products proposed by Gov. Bev. Perdue.

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