Thursday, May 1, 2014

NC House Update - May 2014

2014 Legislative Session

The North Carolina General Assembly will convene the 2014 legislative "Short Session" on May 14. This session will probably last only a few weeks. I am expecting that we will be out of session by mid-to-late June.

Priorities during the Short Session will likely include increasing teacher pay; addressing policies related to public education; working to improve the efficiency of our Medicaid system; finding a sensible solution for cleaning up coal ash ponds; and ensuring that the state budget is balanced in a responsible fashion.

Economy Shows Improvement

North Carolina’s economy is showing tangible signs of improvement. In January 2011 (when Republicans first took control of the state legislature) North Carolina’s unemployment rate was 10.4 percent. In March of this year our unemployment rate was down to 6.3 percent, and over 209,000 net new jobs have been added (since January 2011). In the last year alone North Carolina has added over 50,000 net new jobs.

Unemployment in North Carolina was well above the national average when Republicans first gained a majority in the state legislature. Now the unemployment rate is below the national average, and we are one of the leading states in job creation.

These signs of economic improvement are likely the result of conservative policies that are being advanced in our State Capital. Making North Carolina a better place to do business has been and will continue to be a top priority.

Teacher Compensation

It is my belief that teachers in North Carolina should receive higher compensation. Over the last few months I have visited several schools in Guilford County and witnessed how hard teachers work to educate our children. Unfortunately, the economic recovery and cost overruns related to Medicaid made it difficult to provide teachers with a pay increase in the 2013 legislative session.

Fortunately, it appears that our state legislature may now be in a position to allocate funding to increase pay for teachers. With the economy showing signs of improvement we are starting to experience more stable budget revenue. Therefore, it is my hope that we will be able to provide teachers with a meaningful pay increase when the legislature meets this year.

Common Core

The joint legislative study committee on Common Core recently suggested that we repeal Common Core from state statute and replace it with our own state standards. I believe this is an excellent course of action. It is my hope that this will be accomplished when the legislature meets this year.

Common Core is a set of national education standards related to English and math. Unfortunately, these standards were never tested, there was never a pilot program conducted, and North Carolina adopted the standards with very little debate and virtually no public input. It has turned out that many teachers and parents are unsatisfied with the standards and how they are being implemented in our school system.

North Carolina should have rigorous education standards, but the standards should be set at the state and local level. We do not need a national, top-down approach to how education policy should be implemented. When we craft our education standards at the state level, we should do so with direct input from parents, teachers, and students in our school system.

Medicaid Efficiency

In 2013 there was a roughly $500 million budget shortfall for Medicaid. This year the shortfall appears that it will be closer to $200 million. While any shortfall is not ideal, this is a significant step in the right direction.

Moving forward we must work diligently to make our Medicaid system more efficient and cost-effective. Governor Pat McCrory’s administration has released a plan to improve our Medicaid system, which I plan on reviewing and discussing with legislative colleagues.

Cleaning Up Coal Ash Ponds

The incident involving Duke Energy and the coal ash spill in the Dan River was a serious accident that placed the health of our citizens at risk. That is why policymakers in the legislative and executive branches have been working to find a practical way of preventing this problem from happening again.

In this year’s legislative session I am expecting that we will agree upon a plan to direct Duke Energy to ensure that such an accident doesn’t happen again. This will need to be done in a sensible fashion that protects the environment without placing undue regulations on the private sector. I look forward to reviewing plans related to this topic when the legislative session begins this year.

Balancing the State Budget

Ensuring that the state budget is balanced in a responsible fashion will be a major focus in this year’s legislative session. Raising taxes to balance the state budget will not be an option (as was often done in the past). Our focus will be on funding the core functions of government while spending your tax dollars wisely.

Reelection 2014

It has been an honor to serve as a Representative in the NC House, and it would be a privilege to continue serving. I do not have a primary opponent, but I am facing competition in the general election (which will be held on November 6). With your support, I am confident that we will secure a successful reelection campaign this year.

We will be planning campaign activities over the summer and into the fall. Stay tuned for updates on how to get involved in our reelection campaign. I would be honored to have your support.

Meanwhile, don’t forget to vote in the Primary Elections on May 6. In fact, early voting has already started. Be sure to cast a vote so your voice will be heard.

Quote to Remember

“Tell the truth, work hard, and come to dinner on time.”
- President Gerald R. Ford