Sen. Newton: Tax cuts a triumph Wilson County lawmaker says tax reform will redefine business climate
By Corey Friedman | Times Online Editor
Workers will keep more of their paychecks and might have more jobs to choose from as new companies set up shop in North Carolina, state Sen. Buck Newton said.
Wilson County’s state senator hailed the tax reform plan Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law July 23 as the most significant piece of legislation to emerge from the General Assembly’s 2013 regular session.
"We really accomplished a lot by doing that,” Newton said. "We achieved significant tax relief for pretty much everyone in the state. We’ve actually redefined the economic environment in North Carolina probably for the next 10 or 15 years at least.”
The reform package cuts the corporate tax rate from 6.9 percent to 5 percent, reduces the personal income tax by 2 percent and reduces the tax rate for top earners by a significant 25 percent. A Forbes magazine contributor called the bill "a best-in-class example” of pro-growth tax reform.
"I think it was the biggest and most important for no other reason than because it was the most difficult,” Newton said. "It was a very difficult task. It’s been attempted many times and never done successfully since the 1930s.”
The nonpartisan Tax Foundation says North Carolina leaps from 44th to 17th in its rankings of state business climates with the tax changes.
"We really worked hard to focus our policies on trying to help rebuild the economy and basically restore North Carolina’s place as a leader in the Southeast and in the country,” Newton said. "I feel like we’ve turned the corner.”
A private-practice attorney from Wilson, Newton represents portions of Wilson, Nash and Johnston counties in Senate District 11. He serves as co-chairman of the Senate’s Judiciary I and Justice and Public Safety Appropriations committees.
VOTER ID LAW
Newton joined Republican leaders in the General Assembly in supporting a bill that requires voters to display a government-issued photo identification card at the polls, a move that supporters say is necessary to prevent voter fraud.
The bill also allows fewer days for one-stop early voting, but Newton said critics who contend that it limits access to the ballot box are giving people the wrong impression.
"There’s a lot of misinformation about the voter ID and elections bill,” Newton said. "When we took amendments — some Democratic amendments — the bill actually mandates in effect more hours of early voting than we previously had, it’s just condensed to 10 days.”
Newton said early voting rules were changes to ensure uniformity throughout the Tar Heel State. If some counties offered more days to vote early than others, he said, all North Carolinians wouldn’t enjoy equal access.
"We wanted there to be consistency across the state,” he said. "Unfortunately, in the past, you had different counties doing different things.”
The law that McCrory signed will streamline and standardize elections in North Carolina, Newton said, not discourage residents from voting.
"There should be ample opportunity for anybody who is entitled to cast a vote to be able to do it,” he said.
BLOCKING I-95 TOLLS
Newton worked with fellow local lawmakers, including state Rep. Jeff Collins, a Rocky Mount Republican, to ensure that language preventing toll collection on existing lanes of Interstate 95 was included in the final transportation bill.
Perhaps the most overshadowed piece of legislation that lawmakers passed, Newton said, is a regulatory reform bill that will allow the state to review internal rules and regulations at least every 10 years.
"You can’t talk about it in very specific terms, and it didn’t lend itself easily to the media covering it,” Newton noted.
The Wilson County senator also introduced a bill to improve educational outcomes for deaf and hard-of-hearing children by allowing them to choose whether to attend a school in their district or a residential school like the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf in Wilson.
The House version of that bill was ratified and signed into law, and two of its four primary sponsors were local lawmakers — Reps. Jean Farmer-Butterfield, D-Wilson, and Susan Martin, R-Wilson.
"I received and still receive a lot of positive feedback from our constituents about a number of the things we did this session,” Newton said. "I hope my constituents would find my performance to be generally good.”
Republican leaders’ conservative social policies have drawn the ire of Tar Heel State progressives. The state NAACP chapter began organizing "Moral Monday” protests outside the legislative complex in Raleigh, with hundreds of demonstrators being arrested in acts of civil disobedience for refusing to leave the legislative building.
Newton said he and the protesters have little in common — "I’m having trouble thinking of anything I might agree with them on,” he mused — but he said they’re free to express themselves and voice their displeasure.
"I think in many ways, it’s a testament to our democracy,” he said. "People certainly have the right to express their opinions. Back in 2009-10, a lot of people did the same thing throughout the country in the tea party protests. It’s an old and very proud American tradition.”
Newton said he found some of the protest signs he’s seen to be offensive, but he supports the demonstrators’ First Amendment rights to free speech, assembly and petition.
He said the Moral Monday crowds probably represent a vocal but small bloc of voters and doubts that their protests will cause a change of direction in Raleigh.
"I don’t think they are having much impact on things for the most part,” he said. "There’s a lot to events like this being organized, and a lot of it has to do with getting in front of a TV camera or newspaper reporter.”
Newton said most residents of Senate District 11 have supported the Republican legislative majority’s agenda.
"Most of the negative feedback that I got is not from people who are in my district,” he said. "It’s hard for me to think that my constituents are very dissatisfied.”
A seasoned litigator and second-term state lawmaker, Newton said he’s always willing to listen to those who disagree with him.
"When they call or write with a concern, usually we are able to discuss why I have the position and believe the way I do,” he said. "Folks either come to understand and agree with me or at least respect my opinion even if they don’t agree with me on everything.”
In a representative government, Newton said, residents elect leaders whose governing philosophy mirrors their own and trust them to apply that philosophy as they make decisions on individual bills.
"I try very, very hard to let people know what I believe and how I approach government,” he said. "I also approach it knowing most issues that have any controversy at all, you have to make a decision, and whatever decision you make is going to make somebody unhappy.”
Newton said lawmakers will probably focus on tying up loose ends and looking at popular bills that the clock ran out on when they convene next year for the General Assembly’s short session.
"I really appreciate people putting their trust in me to look at these things and study these things and make decisions,” he said. "It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s a lot of fun. It’s rewarding for me to know that hopefully in some small way I’ve helped people in Wilson, in our district, in the state.”