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In video, realtors association vows to fight 'home tax'

The N.C. Association of Realtors is sending a message to Republican lawmakers considering a tax overhaul: don't hike the real estate transfer tax.

Senate Republicans put the item on the table in the debate. And now the association is responding with a new web video that signals it is prepared to fight the tax plan is the transfer tax is included.

Quick Hits

* Clare Giesen, head of the National Women's Political Caucus, will speak to members of the N.C. chapter in Charlotte on Feb. 26.

* Sen. Steve Goss now says he was inspired to write a blog libel bill after reading about the cyberbullying conviction of a Missouri woman.

* Sen. Harry Reid's spokesman says Rep. Heath Shuler's criticism about his "failed" bipartisanship comes from a guy who threw too many interceptions. 

* Recount finds transfer tax failed by just 35 votes in Avery County, the latest in a string of defeats for counties looking for an alternative.

New GOP consulting firm starting up

A new Republican consulting group is setting up shop.

Chris Sinclair of Public Solutions and Alastair Macaulay of Cornerstone Strategy and Communications announced that they will merge.

The new firm, called Cornerstone Solutions, will be a full-service political consulting, strategic communications and issue management firm in North Carolina.

Sinclair said in an e-mail to Dome that they plan to fill the void left by the retirement of Tom Fetzer and Mark Stephens after the November elections.

"We're the new (Republican) kids on the block," he said.

The two consultants have a lot of experience on the hot-button issue of real estate. Both have helped the N.C. Association of Realtors successfully fend off land transfer taxes nearly two dozen times and another campaign against allowing counties to have the tax.

Alastair is the former political director for the N.C. Home Builders Association.

The firm will have an office in West Palm Beach, Fla., headed by Rick Asnani, and in Raleigh and Washington, D.C.

Home Builders' chief lobbyist retiring

A familiar face will be missing when the legislature reconvenes next year.

Veteran lobbyist Paul Wilms is retiring at the end of the year, Rob Christensen reports.

For the past eight years, Wilms has been chief lobbyist for the N.C. Homebuilders Association, but he has worked for the homebuilders since 1990.

In recent years, the group has been a key force in the debate over real estate transfer taxes.

The new lobbyist will be Lisa D. Martin, who has been the homebuilders' director of regulatory affairs since 2001.

Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated Martin's job.

Realtor complains to elections board

A Raleigh Realtor has complained to the State Board of Elections.

In a letter sent Wednesday, Raleigh Realtor Becky Harper complains about the N.C. Association of Realtors' use of required dues to oppose the transfer tax.

She notes that she is required to be a member of the association to have access to the Multiple Listing Service, which lists real estate for sale.

"I do not believe that it is right that my required fees are used to support direct political action for or against ballot initiatives," she writes.

She also notes that the dues are deductible as a business expense, but the use of them for political purposes may "jeopardize" that deduction.

Harper attached an e-mail and a letter from the association about the use of dues.

Update: Elections Director Gary Bartlett said they will look into the complaint.

"We plan to do due diligence on it," he said.  

Realtors complaint

A complaint from a Realtor about the use of dues for political purposes.
Download document

Senate votes to reject land transfer tax

The state Senate overwhelmingly voted to kill a land transfer tax increase option that lawmakers had made available to voters last year.

The vote was 38 to 9. It came after Senate leaders ruled out of order an amendment to repeal the taxing option within the Senate's $21.4 billion budget proposal, Dan Kane reports.

State Sen. David Hoyle's bill would prevent counties from holding referendums for voters to consider raising the land transfer tax by no more than .4 percent. Since the option was made available, nineteen counties have rejected it.

"The people that I represent are up in arms with me and I'm offering this to try to bring an end to that," said Hoyle, a Gaston County Democrat.

State Sen. Charlie Dannelly, a Charlotte Democrat, said the taxing option should stay.

"We should not promise our citizens something and think they don't have enough sense to vote whether they want it or not," Dannelly said.

The Senate will have to vote a second time before the legislation moves to the House. It faces a tougher sell there, as House leaders fought to include the option in last year's budget bill as part of a Medicaid relief package for counties.

Senate comm. agrees to transfer tax repeal

The Senate Finance Committee today approved a repeal of the land transfer tax option that lawmakers gave to counties last year.

The option would allow counties to increase their land transfer tax by up to .4 percent. So far, 19 counties have held referendums to increase the tax and all have failed.

State Sen. David Hoyle, a Gaston County Democrat who sponsored the bill, said those failures show the public does not want it.

"Babe Ruth would not be happy with this record — they all struck out," said Hoyle, who is a finance committee co-chairman. "The people feel in my district, and in talking to folks around the state, that they should not continue to have this issue hanging over their heads."

The vote was not unanimous. Two senators spoke out against the repeal.

State Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, a Carrboro Democrat, said that the six counties with a one percent land transfer tax, all in Senate leader Marc Basnight's district, have kept property taxes down while providing more money for schools.

"It is one of the most successful (tax options) that we've had," she said.

She said some counties might have passed the tax if Realtors and homebuilders hadn't spent heavily on advertising campaigns against it.

The legislation moves to the full Senate. It would also need approval in the House, where it faces stiff opposition from Speaker Joe Hackney, an Orange County Democrat.

He prevented a repeal from being placed in the House budget bill passed last week, and a majority of House members backed his ruling.

House blocks effort to repeal tax law

State House members this morning killed an effort to repeal a law that gives counties the authority to hold referendums to increase the real estate transfer tax.

House Minority Leader Paul Stam, an Apex Republican, sought to have the law repealed by amending the House's $21.3 billion state budget proposal, reports Dan Kane.

House Speaker Joe Hackney, an Orange County Democrat, ruled that the amendment was out of order and should not be taken up in the budget.

Stam sought to suspend the rules, but lawmakers narrowly defeated his request by a 59-54 vote.

Stam argued that since the real estate transfer tax law was part of last year's budget bill, it should be up for amending in this one, which is actually an adjustment to last year's budget. (In long sessions, lawmakers pass a two-year budget bill, then use the short session to make adjustments to it for the second year.)

Hackney said the real estate transfer tax was part of a larger effort to remove the counties' share of Medicaid expenses and could not be removed without a reworking of that effort. He also said the amendment was not germane to the budget and was a local government issue.

So far, no county has passed a referendum to raise the real estate transfer tax to .4 percent. It has been rejected in 20 counties.

Update: Hackney said the effort to reconsider the issue was not close. He said the House rules require a two-thirds majority to suspend the rules. 

Stam digs deep to oppose transfer tax

Paul StamState Rep. Paul Stam is not a fan of the transfer tax.

The House Republican leader not only opposed the tax in the legislature, he also sent a guest editorial to local newspapers in counties that had put it up to a referendum.

But in Tyrrell County, he was told the local paper had no room for his editorial.

So Stam, as he told it at the North Carolina Chamber luncheon this afternoon, dug into his own pocket and paid $67 to the weekly Scuppernong Reminder to run the editorial as an ad.

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