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By one vote, Cowell's bill for pension investment flexibility survives

By a rare narrow vote, the House Finance Committee approved a bill Wednesday to give State Treasurer Janet Cowell more flexibility to invest the state's pension money, even after the panel weakened the measure.

The 14-13 vote reflects the ardent opposition from the State Employees Association of North Carolina, which is concerned about the risk of moving into alternative investments and opposes Cowell's sole management of the retirement fund.

Cowell appeared at the meeting to push to increase the current 34 percent total cap on private asset investments, such as hedge funds and real estate, saying the state's $80 billion pension portfolio is too limited to stocks and bonds. She said with the stock market at all-time highs and interest rates about to rise, the current investment strategy is not sustainable.

In quick, questionable vote, House panel approves tax bill

A House panel approved a sweeping tax bill Tuesday with a $1.5 billion price tag, rushing the vote so quickly it left many lawmakers stunned.

In an hour-long meeting, lawmakers discussed three amendments and never debated the actual bill to add a sales tax to numerous exempt services, such as car repairs, to pay for moderate cuts in the personal and corporate income tax rates – the biggest overhaul of the state’s tax system in at least a decade.

The rush, orchestrated by House GOP leaders, and a discussion that split political loyalties underscored the difficult path ahead for the top Republican legislative priority this session. The bill now moves to the full House but the consternation may prove inconsequential because it varies widely from a plan sponsored by Senate Republicans that further cuts taxes and extends the sales tax to even more services.

The one major change to the House plan approved by the Finance Committee eliminated caps on certain tax deductions and added roughly $500 million to the bill’s cost.

Estate tax repeal wins approval of House panel

North Carolina is moving to eliminate its estate tax under legislation that won approval along party lines in a House committee Wednesday.

Republican state Rep. Edgar Starnes, the House GOP leader, said the state tax on the value of estates upon death is "an economic policy that just punishes people because they are trying to save things." But Democrats countered that it only applies to the most wealthy and provides needed revenue for state programs.

The state tax applies to estates with a value over $5.25 million or $10.5 million for a married couple. The rate starts at 0.8 percent and increases to 16 percent for the largest estates.

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