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Apodaca: Sales tax rate apt to drop, not rise


Sen. Tom Apodaca seeks a seventh term

     The headline for the feature on State Sen. Tom Apodaca that ran in The Tribune Oct. 16 should not have said that he sees the state sales tax state rising. The Tribune apologizes for this error.

      Sen. Apodaca has since said the state sales tax rate is very unlikely to rise, with the GOP in power. As the story states, he does foresee further spreading the sales tax burden by taxing more services. Doing so brings in more state sales tax revenue.

 “‘Expand the base, reduce the rate’ is our mantra,” he said Sunday night. “If and when (within a half-decade) this happens, the rate will come down” from 4.75 percent now to 4 or even 3 percent. Henderson County’s combined state-local sales tax currently is at 6.75 percent.

Republicans have a (governor) veto-proof, three-fifths (60 percent) “super majority” in both state chambers. They control 33 of 50 Senate seats, and 77 of 120 House seats pending elections Nov. 4. The GOP took control of both the state Senate and House in 2010 for the first time since Reconstruction, and in 2012 got Pat McCrory into the governor’s mansion.

The General Assembly re-convenes in January, after the campaign and holiday seasons, but some committees are meeting. Apodaca, 57, was in Raleigh last week in Education Oversight committee meetings. He is in his sixth two-year term, and won his first election in 2002.

Apodaca is in the top handful of GOP legislators, in controlling flow of bills. He is a pivotal ally of Senate Leader Phil Berger. Apodaca ranked second in an annual evaluation of legislators’ effectiveness by the nonpartisan N.C. Center for Public Policy Research.

He points to several achievements in the past four years since the GOP rose to power, starting with the budget. “When we took control in 2010, we were $2.5 billion in the hole. We passed a balanced budget amendment, and balanced the budget.”

He is among GOP leaders favoring a rise in sales tax instead of income tax, along with spending cuts or restraints. He said online purchases and more services are now taxed, such as movie and theater tickets. More may be on the way such as medical, legal and realtor fees; also electricians and other trades, lawn care and haircuts. He sees this as the lesser of evils, though, as people can control many types of spending.

“Sin tax” rates on cigarettes and alcohol are already “in the higher end” compared to other states, he said, and thus may not rise further. He said he is against taxing most foods since that is a basic necessity, unless perhaps on more “exotic” grocery products.

The unemployment rate in Henderson County is among the four lowest in the state, Apodaca said. It was merely 4.6 percent recently (compared to 6.3 percent nationally) according to Sperling’s Best Places, compared to 5.1 percent in June and 6.0 percent for the first half of 2014 in state commerce data.

North Carolina’s jobless rate has steadily dropped since the GOP took over, Apodaca said. The rate was 6.8 percent when seasonally adjusted in August, above the national 6.1 percent rate then. But this sharply contrasts to a rate of over 10 percent in the Tar Heel State a half-decade ago, which was among the fourth worst states, Apodaca said.

Job creation is easier since GOP-led North Carolina legislators lowered corporate as well as personal tax rates, he said. The corporate rate is below 6 percent, and the GOP wants to lower it further incrementally to better compete with other states, Apodaca said. Tennessee and Florida levy no income tax, while South Carolina “hands out money like it’s lunch time. They just gave Continental Tire $40 million (in incentives), with no strings. That’s irresponsible.”

He said North Carolina should keep applying job creation standards to tax breaks. With competitive corporate tax rates, he said, the state can gain an edge with such draws as a “superior educational system in higher education and K-12.”

The GOP led the way for teacher raises. The raises approach 7.1 percent, he said. Democrats charge that raises for veteran teachers are much less, when factoring in longevity pay changes. Apodaca counters that such bonus pay is not reduced, but rather given in wider intervals instead of annually. He said the pay scale was revised from nearly 20 to six steps. He said this, in turn, benefits newer teachers which is “better in recruiting teachers.”

Sen. Apodaca co-chairs the Education Appropriations subcommittee, and committees on insurance and pensions. His wife Lisa has taught locally. Their grown sons are Brandon and Tate.

Another hot issue is coal ash cleanup. GOP leaders took steps this year, after a spill into the Dan River. “Democrats had 140 years to do something, but they did nothing” on this issue, Apodaca said of their long stranglehold on state power. A half-decade ago “they didn’t even hear” a reform bill on the floor, squelching it in committee.

In contrast, he said, this year “we passed the toughest coal ash regulation in U.S. history.” Sen. Berger praised Apodaca for a law that “protects ratepayers (from Duke passing on cleanup costs) and addresses the environmental problems presented by coal ash ponds.”

All 33 identified coal ash ponds in the state must shut down within 14 years of now, by the new law, Sen. Apodaca noted. Four ponds have to close within five years. They include the nearest to here, by Lake Julian in Arden which impacts the French Broad River and connecting streams. Apodaca credits local colleague State Rep. Chuck McGrady, former Sierra Club national president, with work on the “stringent” new regulations.

“Radical environmentalists want coal ash dug up and hauled to landfills, but there’s not enough room in landfills to do that,” Apodaca added.

Health care is yet another major issue. Apodaca said the state will still “opt out of ‘Obamacare’” health care mandates. Democrats “keep trying to bring it back,” he said. “We haven’t taken any movement, toward that.”

Instead, Republicans focus on reigning in spending of Medicaid, which is largely for indigent families. “Medicaid is broken,” he said. “We’re working diligently, to get it fixed. Medicaid (in N.C.) expanded by over a billion dollars, in three years. And it costs more to abide by Obamacare rules. We gotta get its outgoing expenses under control. The first step is to set it up, so we know who is getting what benefits. Managed care of MCOs and ACOs and hospitals are putting forward a more definitive cost structure, to treat a patient.”

Sen. Apodaca earned a business administration degree from Western Carolina University, in 1980. Last month, he got WCU’s Trustees Award. He helped WCU get $1.4 million from the state last year, to expand its engineering program to Asheville-Hendersonville.

Apodaca’s campaign manager now and as in 2002 is civic leader Jeff Miller, a 30-year friend. “He works to get things done. I’ve seen it over and over again on behalf of seniors, veterans, and working people in the district,” Miller stated. He lauded Apodaca’s role for raising teacher pay, in coal ash disposal regulations, and fiscal matters. “Tom also led the fight for tax relief, paying down debt and a balanced budget. His commitment to fiscal responsibility has not wavered.”

For more on Sen. Apodaca, check

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