Now that the 2013 legislative session has come to a close, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the progress that was made. With many positive reforms being advanced, I believe that North Carolina is on track to see a brighter future. Here are some of the highlights:
Reforming our tax code is perhaps the most profound achievement of the year. It had become clear that we needed to reform our tax code in order to make North Carolina more competitive with other states.
North Carolina's tax reform plan will reduce our personal income tax to a flat rate of 5.75 percent; drastically lower the corporate tax; eliminate the estate tax; and modernize our tax code. It will also place a cap on the gas tax.
According to the Washington-based Tax Foundation, this reform will move our state from having the 48th worst tax climate to the 17th best. This is a major step in the right direction, and it will help to attract jobs to North Carolina.
Another critical area that needed attention was our state budget situation.
Passing a budget that is balanced and responsible; reforming our unemployment insurance system; and requiring lawmakers to seek voter approval before assuming new government debt are all achievements in getting our state finances in order.
Another notable factor in the state budget is the discontinuation of funding for the NC Rural Center, which had been misusing tax dollars.
There were several measures advanced in the General Assembly this year that reduce and streamline government regulations.
Perhaps the most notable regulatory reform measure is a requirement for state regulations to be reviewed on a periodic bases. Under this reform, the Rules Review Commission will be tasked with analyzing state regulations. Rules that are deemed unnecessary would be allowed to expire, which will help to ensure that existing rules are necessary.
On a personal note, I am honored that three of my bills related to regulatory reform were passed into law. HB 610 eases customer service regulations on professional athletic teams; HB 687 provides non-profit homeless shelters with more flexibility in how they operate; and HB 761 streamlines state laws related to the bail bond industry.
This year's budget re-writes the state's formula for funding of transportation projects, which will help to direct funding to where it is most needed. This will be done in concert with mandating a data-driven prioritization process, while allowing input from citizens. The General Assembly has also moved forward with efforts to reduce the influence of politics in transportation policy by eliminating named projects from statute.
There have been several innovative measures taken this year to increase the quality of education in North Carolina. Replacing teacher tenure with employment contracts; promoting bonus pay for teachers; strengthening our public charter school system; and increasing pre-K enrollment are steps that have been taken to innovate our education system.
One further education reform worth noting is the establishment of career diplomas for high school students. These diplomas will indicate whether a student is college-ready, career-ready, or both. This will help young people determine what type of career they would like to pursue.
Finding ways to streamline our Medicaid system has been a major topic this year. An important step in this process is a provision in the state budget that will allow the executive branch to formulate a comprehensive plan to reform our Medicaid system. The goal is to increase the efficiency of our Medicaid system while reducing the financial burden on our taxpayers.
Also, the General Assembly decided to opt-out of complying with certain provisions of Obamacare, including an expansion of Medicaid and the establishment of a state-run health care exchange.
Legislation to require voters to show photo ID when voting has become law. Implementing these requirements will help to protect the integrity of our elections system. This is a logical way to guard against potential voter fraud, and to promote confidence in how elections are conducted.
Laws were passed this session that will help to protect the rights of law-abiding citizens who own firearms. Most notably, legislation was passed that will strengthen the rights of citizens who have a conceal-carry permit, while also increasing penalties for criminal misuse of firearms. Steps were also taken to protect the privacy of individuals who have a conceal-carry permit (or a pistol purchase permit).
Additional officers will be added to the Highway Patrol system, while also providing critical funding for fuel, equipment, and training. There will also be an increase in the number of magistrates and parole officers across the state. This will help to ensure that criminal cases are handled as efficiently as possible.
Jordan Lake Rules
Legislation was passed this session that will pause the implementation of future Jordan Lake Rules. This will allow time for a study to determine the long-term effects of the rules, and whether or not they should be re-written. The goal is to find a sensible way to protect the environment while also protecting taxpayer dollars. (The Jordan Lake Rules, if fully-implemented, would impose a significant financial cost on Guilford County.)
North Carolina Moves Forward
There is no quick fix to instantly turn around the economy in North Carolina, but the process has begun. Many positive, pro-economic measures have been advanced in this legislative session. These advancements will help to strengthen our economy and provide more opportunity for our citizens.
It is my true belief that North Carolina's best days have yet to come. My hope is that North Carolina will be a state where government is efficient; there is more opportunity for citizens; and other states look to us as a model for success. When looking back on the recent legislative session, I believe that we are moving in the direction of making that hope a reality.
As always, do not hesitate to contact me with questions or comments. It is an honor to work for you in the NC House.
Quote to Remember
"All of us should remember that the government is not some mysterious institution comprised of buildings, files, and paper. The people are the government. What we create we ought to be able to control."
- President Ronald Reagan