Ben Franklin got it wrong when he said that, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
That may have been so in the Revolutionary era, but today we know that has narrowed a bit: We still haven’t figured out how to lick death, but we sure can dodge taxes.
Well, some of us can.
We all know about millionaires and billionaires using tax-code loopholes to avoid paying taxes. Those loopholes were put there by members of Congress, at the behest of their wealthiest constituents, who also happen to be their top contributors, in most cases.
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We’ve got a North Carolina version of that loopholing in the General Assembly this year, in a bid to give developers a free pass on property taxes. A bill that’s already passed the House and is looking good in the Senate will exempt builders from paying property taxes on the new homes in their inventories for up to three years.
You may have observed that developers are one of the more generous groups of donors to state and local politicians. Of course, there’s no connection between their contributions and our lawmakers’ decision to cut them a sweet deal.
According to the legislature’s Fiscal Research Division, the tax break would save developers about $60 million a year – and take that amount out of city and county treasuries.
From the time the home construction begins until it’s sold, our lawmakers want the cities and counties to give builders a free ride. No charge for police and fire protection, free road maintenance and lighting and sanitation.
OK, let’s do it. But let’s be businesslike about it. If builders don’t need to pay taxes on their unsold homes, the cities and counties should have no obligation to protect them. If someone breaks into a just-completed home and steals the appliances, the cops will stand around and watch. No arrests. No charges. If that new-but-unsold home catches fire, the fire department just stands by and watches the place goes up in smoke. Fair is fair, right? No taxes, no services.
The General Assembly won’t go there. We know that. The builders will get their tribute in exchange for their generous support.
And the rest of us will be reassured, once again, that pay-to-play is alive and well in the General Assembly. We’re getting the best legislature money can buy.
Too bad they can’t figure out how to repeal death, too. That one we could all get behind.
Tim White is editorial page editor for the Fayetteville Observer.