Feb. 07--With a firm handshake and a grateful smile, a Wilson County farmer thanked state Rep. Susan Martin for repealing North Carolina's estate tax Thursday.
"That was one of my commitments that I campaigned on," Martin explained after greeting the man. "It is really important for our district, our family farmers. It was a significant win."
Martin will seek a second term representing parts of Wilson and Pitt counties in House District 8. She announced her plans at the Wilson County Farm Bureau's annual legislative dinner Thursday night -- the first event where she appeared as a candidate in her 2012 campaign.
"It was two years ago when I was announcing for my first election," Martin said. "I'm pleased to come back to make my official announcement that I am running for re-election."
A Wilson Republican, Martin sponsored a state House bill last year to repeal the estate tax, which applied to inheritances valued at $3.5 million or more. Supporters say the tax hurt farmers who are land-rich and cash-poor. Some farmers who inherited the family business from their parents had to sell land or equipment to pay the tax.
Martin's bill itself didn't become law, but her bid to repeal the estate tax was rolled into a series of tax reforms that the GOP-controlled General Assembly passed late last year.
"We've protected family farms from an outrageous double-tax that threatened to eliminate them and stopped the liberal assault on our way of life," Martin said in a written statement.
In her freshman term, Martin worked with Republican legislative leaders to pass a comprehensive tax reform package meant to jump-start North Carolina's economy by attracting more businesses to the state.
"I think tax reform was the most significant accomplishment, and it was the most challenging thing to accomplish because of all the work that had to take place," Martin said.
GOP-backed reforms slashed individual and corporate tax rates and added sales and service taxes. The nonpartisan Tax Foundation said the reforms made North Carolina the 17th most business-friendly state compared to a ranking of 44th the year before. But critics say the tax changes hurt low-income residents who will pay more for goods and services.
"Before I was elected, our state's business environment didn't compete with our neighbors in the South, and it hurt families in our community," Martin said in a statement. "By right-sizing state government and empowering the private sector, we now have the strongest job growth in the Southeast and we are growing at three times the national average."
Martin expressed support for and solidarity with Wilson County's agribusiness community during the Farm Bureau event. Sixteen percent of the county's jobs are in farming or agribusiness, and the county has 300 farms and 100,000 acres of cultivated land, according to county Commissioner Rob Boyette. Those farms generate nearly $140 million in gross revenues each year.
"Agriculture is so important to North Carolina," Martin said. "It still is the No. 1 industry, and with where we are, we need to feed the world. There's no reason North Carolina can't be the top state."
House Bill 101, Martin's bill to eliminate the estate tax, was the first piece of legislation she introduced as primary sponsor. General Assembly records show she was a primary sponsor of 25 bills in 2013.
GOP lawmakers called Martin a rising Republican star. She was tapped to chair the House Study Committee on Education Innovation and was named vice-chairwoman of the appropriations subcommittee on health and human services.
A member of the agriculture, appropriations, education, ways and means, public utilities and regulatory reform committees, Martin would likely see more leadership opportunities in the House if elected to a second term.
Martin's other first-term accomplishments include making video psychiatric assessments available at all North Carolina hospitals, co-sponsoring a bipartisan bill to give more hearing-impaired children the choice of attending a residential school like Wilson's own Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf and joining with other Wilson County lawmakers to honor Vollis Simpson and make the whirligig North Carolina's official folk art.
She isn't content to rest on her laurels, however. Martin said she and other conservative lawmakers have unfinished business, and she's asking voters in Wilson and Pitt counties to send her back to Raleigh for two more years.
"Unfortunately, our state's unemployment rate was sixth-highest in the country before I was elected, so we still have a ways to go to help all families struggling to make ends meet," she said. "I'm running to help them recover by keeping our state moving forward."
A retired IBM executive, mother and homemaker, Martin is married to Dr. Lew Martin, a Wilson orthopedic surgeon.
Martin agreed to draft a bill to increase Wilson County's motel and hotel occupancy tax from 3 percent to 6 percent, which tourism boosters say would help the county better market itself. However, she hasn't committed to introducing the bill and said she has questions that would have to be answered before she could extend support.
"I'm somewhat skeptical of the economic analysis information," Martin said. "I really want to peel that back and understand the data. I've agreed to be part of the conversation."
Other elected officials attended the annual legislative dinner including state Sens. Buck Newton and Angela Bryant, Wilson County Commissioners Leslie Atkinson and Rob Boyette and Sheriff Calvin Woodard Jr. Aides attended on behalf of U.S. Reps. G.K. Butterfield and George Holding.
Visiting lawmakers gave brief remarks after a buffet-style catered dinner in the conference room at the Farm Bureau Insurance office on Wooten Boulevard.
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