By Russ Lay | Outer Banks Voice on October 22, 2012The Outer Banks Association of REALTORS and the Outer Banks Homebuilders Association jointly sponsored a candidates forum for not only the candidates for Dare County commissioners, but also those running for state House of Representatives and the state Senate.
A crowd of close to 200 paid $25 for dinner and to hear the hopeful candidates discuss a wide range of issues on October 17 at the Ramada Plaza in Kill Devil Hills, with Realtor Mike Davenport of Sun Realty moderating.
Legislative candidate recap
Rep. Bob Cook (R), who is the current state house representative for the “old” District 6 recited his experience and his motivation for entering politics in the first place-tax increases sponsored by the then Democratic Party controlled legislature in during the depths of the recession. His major concern is the amount of debt facing North Carolina state government.
His challenger, Sen. Stan White (D), who was appointed to the job after the retirement of Marc Basnight also recited his senate experience, his district-wide representation of the region as a member of the state transportation board and his local roots.
On the House side, Republican Mattie Lawson focused on her past corporate experience consulting under the Six Sigma program, defense related work classified as “top secret” and her desire to hammer away at taxes and regulations.
Challenger Paul Time recounted his small business experience in tripling the size of his insurance agency and an extensive resume of local volunteer work ranging from Chamber of Commerce president, the board of The Lost Colony and the founding of the Create the Future Initiative.
Tine also noted that “15 counties” now appear to control the state legislature in Raleigh, with Dare and the other 84 counties being left out of major decisions.
Early on, the Republican state house candidates separated themselves from the Democrats as both Cook and Lawson made it point to note they were “Conservative, Christian, and Republican.”
The two maintained that theme and unity throughout the forum.
The candidates were asked if they supported “tax reform in general” and also whether they were in favor of imposing a sales tax on services (such as accounting, legal services, landscaping, haircuts).
Sen. White stated it was “easy to say no more new taxes and everyone could go home feeling happy” but pointed out that in reality, people were in favor of cutting services “but not until you fix that bridge in my town”.
White said North Carolina needs tax reform and pointed out our state taxes placed on 44th in the country when rated on business-friendly tax structures. He reminded voters that we all need to decide what services we want and that too often the desire to cut services typically meant “not in my backyard.”
Rep. Cook stated bluntly “I am against taxing” and said residents and businesses in North Carolina “carried too high a tax burden.”
Cook replied that surrounding states had lower tax rates and as a result, businesses were less likely to locate in North Carolina.
Cook would only consider a tax on services “if we lowered the general sales tax from 4.75% to something nearer 3%.” He stated small businesses created 70% of the jobs in North Carolina so tax reform for them was especially important if we were to grow the economy. He also advocated reducing regulation.
Like White, he also said the citizens need to communicate the level of service they wanted the state government to provide.
Tine pointed out that in his view, voters needed to remember that tax reform means “somebody is going to pay more and somebody is going to pay less”, making the decision a hard one.
Tine said tax cuts should be directed to the middle class. He was adamantly opposed to a sales tax on services, saying it would hit the middle class hardest every time they went to a lawyer or got their hair cut.”
Tine also called on the state to stop trying to pick “winners and losers” through tax policy. He called for simplifying the tax code so businesses would spend less money on tax filing and compliance and close loopholes.
“After that is done, we can sit down and see if other adjustments are needed”, he concluded.
Lawson began by saying, “I’m a conservative and I don’t support taxes, it’s a form of legalized stealing.”
She asked the audience if they were are of “Taxmageddon”, a term used by pundits to describe a series of three-waves of federal tax increases slated to begin January 1, 2013.
Lawson said in lieu of that looming tax increase it was important that state and local taxes be held in check.
She said she was personally opposed to a tax on services, but acknowledged “experts say it is reasonable”. She then said if it were to be seriously considered, she would have to see offsets or elimination of estate taxes, business-to-business taxes or placing one tax on end-users.
Lawson cited struggles farmers have with taxes and how farming families were losing their farms in order to pay estate taxes.
The next questions asked the state office seekers to comment on whether or not this region was overregulated.
Lawson began this round, stating regulation was her favorite topic. She once again cited the regulatory burden on fishing and farming as significant threats to the region.
“Regulations have to be managed. Laws are passed in Raleigh, translated into regulations by various departments and then trickle down to local enforcers where the regulations provide them job security while they don’t care about how the regulation affects your job security.”
She asked the audience if they were familiar with the United Nations Agenda 21, and seeing few hands, stated she needed to talk more about that subject and suggested people “get up to speed” as “regulations coming through international law are bubbling up through local planning boards and ‘who can keep up with that?’”
Finally she called for an overall reduction in the size of government.
Tine came out of the box stating “regulations are hurting fishing, farming, homebuilders, a manufacturing plant in Washington (N.C.). They are applied inconsistently and it takes to much time to get answers from Raleigh.”
Tine stated delays in getting answers to regulatory questions caused businesses to take longer to recover investments in business and led even others to “sit on their hands” rather than take chances investing in projects that might collide with regulatory interpretation.
He reminded the audience that the district was environmentally sensitive, so regulatory reform had to take a “balanced approach.”
He also pointed to energy development and broad band as resources for other industries to expand our economic base beyond industries that were more subject to regulation.
Rep. Cook said “there is no doubt we are over-regulated and I can repeat horror stories” he hears almost every day. He mentioned if one wanted to hear about over-regulation, all one had to do was “ask any business owner or worker.”
Anecdotally he cited a situation in the district where state regulators forced a business to create a water discharge plan even though the project did not discharge any water. He said when asked, the regulators response was “We can do whatever we want to do.”
Sen. White also began by stating the region was over-regulated. He cited a regulatory reform bill that passed the legislature and he supported. He told the crowd, “Of course, the governor vetoed it and it was one of the times I voted to override her veto and we got it done.”
White also cited a local case where oceanfront homes in Corolla were destroyed by fire and the Coastal Area Management Authority (CAMA) refused to allow the houses to be rebuilt since they did not comply with setback regulations enacted after they were built.
He recalled how he garnered support in the House from Tim Spear and bi-partisan support to amend the CAMA regulation so that structures destroyed through “no fault of the owner” could be rebuilt under the CAMA regulations in force at the time of construction.
The final question asked the candidates to respond to the proposed 30% rate increase for property insurance in eastern North Carolina.
As Paul Tine owns an insurance agency he was the first to be asked for a response.
Tine responded clearly to the question. “Our insurance rates are too high.” When he entered the business he said he was told “rates don’t matter as long as the economy is good.”
Tine said things had changed so much that “insurance rates have been hurting the health of this community for a long time.”
He cited volunteer efforts he had undertaken in meeting with his own affiliated company (Nationwide), other companies selling policies in the state, the “NCUA” beach plan committees and legislators.
Tine said “obviously my volunteer efforts were unsuccessful because we don’t have the voters here” in sufficient numbers to force rates to be more equal throughout the state.
He concluded by stating the current rate filing increase request was “too much.”
Lawson first addressed the issue by asking voters to elect Republican Mike Causey as the new insurance commissioner “because he has some new ideas” to introduce.
Lawson insisted that insurance companies should be more transparent when revealing their revenues and what actual loss payouts from hurricanes and coastal storms were occurring statewide.
“Rates should be based on losses to the insurer and not be based on discounts to favored areas of the state.”
She concluded by noting that part of the high cost of wind insurance was tied up in insurers purchasing re-insurance policies, often from overseas insurers. She suggested “re-insurance” purchases be restricted to 30% of the insurance pool’s revenues and that financing other hedges could be done with bonds, which would bring down the price and “keep our money in this country.”
Rep. Cook informed the audience that insurance rates in eastern North Carolina were four to five times higher than in the rest of the state. He also endorsed electing Causey to replace the current commissioner.
Cook went on to state “rates are insane, but the political reality is that the middle of the state has more votes and more legislators. This is all political and it needs to be fixed by political means.”
He proposed forming a coastal/rural/mountain coalition to offset the power wielded by metropolitan areas in the center of the state.
Sen. White began by defending the current commissioner, noting the state insurance board and not the commissioner requested the rate increase. He advised we take this problem “one step at a time” and reminded voters that when such requests are made, “sometimes they are approved, sometimes they are not.”
He also cited legislated he supported and passed that gave the insurance commissioner to power to negotiate rate increases. Previously, White said, the insurance commissioner could only accept or reject rate increase proposal in its entirety.
Both the commissioner and state house discussions lacked fireworks until the closing remarks.
Rep. Cook stated in his closing that he opposed placing tolls on ferries in the area.
White, in his closing remarks, countered that Cook not only supported tolls, he cited two newspapers that carried quotes from Cook stating he was in favor of tolls on local ferries.
White accused Cook of taking credit for negotiating a delay of the toll implementation but stuck to his view that Cook was in favor or levying tolls.