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Tillis Still Committed To Ending Temporary Tax Hikes

State Rep. Thom Tillis of Cornelius will formally take over as House Speaker tomorrow (Wednesday) when North Carolina's legislative session officially gets underway. It will be the first time in 141 years that Republicans will be in control of both legislative chambers. Now lawmakers must decide how to deal with a $3.7 billion budget shortfall. WFAE's Scott Graf spoke to Tillis about what's in store for lawmakers. Scott: Assuming the budget is your number one priority this year, after that what would be your top priority going into the new session? Rep. Tillis: Of course, redistricting. We'll be getting the census data, and as we understand it now, in late February going through congressional and house and senate reviews and reapportionment. Scott: Republicans have said that tax increases are not part of the equation this year. Is that still the case? Tills: Yeah, in fact I think tax decreases have to be a part equation to the extent that the subset of the income tax surcharge and sales taxes subset we're trying to reduce the tax burden as a part of the calculations we're using for the budget deficit. Scott: So you wouldn't push for anything even like a fee increase, say, on what it takes to get our car registered in North Carolina? Tillis: Well, to the extent that we need to look at fees because it's costing us more, and so we're subsidizing it through tax dollars. We'll look at that. By and large, most of the fees are aligned to the cost associated with it. What we would not do, what we think is inappropriate, is to call something a fee which is really a tax if it's going to be used for something other than the service that's being provided. So we're trying to take that pure view of how a government operates. We're going through, just in the three hours this morning, going through line-by-line areas of the budget that we think there are some significant opportunities for savings, and we're optimistic that we can get there without raising taxes. Scott: You made some comments earlier this month at an event in Raleigh on limiting abortions in the state of North Carolina. How much of a priority is that for you? Tillis: Well, I thought it was an interesting characterization by the press because I didn't say that. What I did say was that we feel like if expectant mothers are properly informed of the choices that they have, that there will probably be fewer abortions. But anybody who knows the law knows that we are legally bound, and it is impossible for us to limit it. What we are looking at is to have mothers better informed, expectant mothers, young people making profound life choices. And giving the mother options, we think, in the process of that you will see far fewer abortions in this state. Scott: Are changes to the way the North Carolina state government hands out incentives to prospective companies, is that something that is on your radar for this session? Tillis: I think so. I think only to the extent that we need to have, when incentives are offered, and I'm not one who says that all are bad or all are good, I think it depends on the specific opportunity and the safeguards and insurances that we have that the taxpayer's dollars are going to be wisely invested. The problem that you have with incentives over the last decade is that they are all over the board, to ones that I would consider responsible to ones that would hand them a check and hope that something good happens, and we need to be more consistent there. There needs to be transparency when you can, and not have issues with the company with confidentiality, but there has to be a measurable effect and a consequence for the other person on the other side of the deal not living up to their commitment. And I think if we do that, we'll find some balance, but I completely agree with the governor. These incentives are here to solve other problems that we need to solve, and it has to do with regulation, it has to do with our litigation environment, and it has to do with our tax environment. If we get those right, then you will see movement there because those things create jobs and improve our economic situation. We'll have far fewer needs for incentives going forward. Scott: Last question, I know you've got to go to another meeting, but it's been a couple of months now since you've become the Speaker in waiting. How has your perspective changed, if at all, in that period? Tillis: You know, I've found that there's a lot of pieces to this role that go beyond just legislating. We've inherited a complex organization, and I'm actually happy with our progress. We will have, on opening day, we will have completed what typically occurs the first four to six week session. I think my perspective is I've got to look at 120 members, 68 in my own caucus, or 67 and me in my own caucus. It's very complex, it's like a never-ending Rubix cube, but it's a lot of fun and I really appreciate the confidence my caucus has put into me.