My first legislative session came to a close in the wee hours of the morning on June 30th. Since that time we have held 3 “special” sessions for various purposes. These included the wrap-up of some unfinished business, the consideration to override more of the bills our Governor had vetoed, and to redraw legislative districts that were required by a recent court ruling. This should complete our legislative activity for 2017, outside of interim committee meetings. We will most likely reconvene in January for a short period of time.
Let me first touch on the current political environment in Raleigh. The fairest word to describe the ongoing relationship between the General Assembly and the Governor is ‘strained.’ This relationship very much set the tone for much of the session. It certainly contributed to the flow and the speed at which both chambers operated. In spite of this tone, I and my comrades accomplished some very good things for NC. Please read on.
Following are some of the key accomplishments of your General Assembly in 2017. Feel free to contact me if I may answer any specific questions, or assist you in any way.
· NC enjoys AAA Bond Rating - 1 of only 12 states in the country
· The most recent fiscal year resulted in a $582 million revenue surplus—the product of responsible spending practices, an education system recognized first in class by companies looking to relocate, and business-friendly legislation.
· On June 28, 2017, Forbes reports NC Is The National Model For Tax Reform.
· July 11, 2017, George Mason University’s Mercatus Center Rates NC 15th Fiscal Strength.
· This summer NC Dept. of Comm. released record tourism numbers for 2016; record $22.9 bb +4.3% from 2015.
· In May Site Selection Magazine Ranked NC #1 in Economic Competitiveness for the 3rd straight year.
· NC June 2017 Unemployment dropped to 4.2% from 11.0% in 2010
· NC Savings Reserve is now $1.838 billion, our largest ever
· NAEP reports NC 4th grade reading proficiency is at its highest level ever, and trending above national averages.
Continuing the model for NC tax reform, the model that has helped lead us to a solid economic recovery, the legislature passed additional tax reductions this session. These were directly targeted towards helping those with lower to middle incomes, as well as small businesses. Most of these will be fully recognized by 2019. Some of the highlights for these reductions include:
· Families and small businesses will keep $530 million of their hard-earned income over the next two years.
· 99% of North Carolinians will see a tax reduction
· Personal income tax rates will fall from 5.499% to 5.25%
· Corporate income tax rates will fall from 3.0% to 2.75%
· The personal standard deduction is raised to $20,000
· The franchise tax for small business and S corps has been simplified and reduced by creating a $200 flat tax on the first $1 million of a business’s net worth
I know many of you will first be interested to know how the budget might affect us right here at home. The following is a list of some budget items that have specific advantages for our region:
· The Western School of Medicine at MAHEC will receive $15.5 million to help fill the shortfall of doctors and surgeons for our region.
· The Asheville Regional Airport, now the 4th largest in NC will receive $4.5 million to help fund the growing demand for its infrastructure needs.
· $200,000 to help protect our Hemlocks and continue the fight against the woolly adelgid.
· Mission Hospital will receive a $4 million grant for additional mental health beds
· Hendersonville was awarded $100,000 to continue work on improving its downtown public facilities.
· The Transylvania County Economic Alliance will receive $200,000 to add a 10,000 sq. ft. expansion to its Ecusta Road Economic Development Project.
· A $375,000 fund will be administered the NC Dept. of Commerce to promote outdoor recreation in NC. I believe with that program our region has more to gain than most communities in the state.
· Pisgah Legal Services will receive $100,000 to aid in assistance for military veterans.
· Our local judicial districts continue to experience growing pressure. To enable them to address their growing concerns Court District 42 (Henderson, Transylvania, Polk) will receiving funding for one additional Assistant District Attorney. Henderson County will receive funding for three additional Deputy Clerks of Court. Additional position allocations for FY 2018-19 will be determined by the Clerks’ Conference in September this year.
· A NC Forest Service Joint Use Training Center with the NC National Guard at DuPont State Park will receive $100,000 towards the development of a Forest Training Center.
· Muddy Sneakers, an educational program operating in Henderson County to utilize outdoor classrooms to teach science and math received a $500,000 grant to support its program courses to 5th graders.
· The Western Carolina University steam plant was built in 1960 and the need to get it replaced is growing. It will receive $750,000 towards the nearly $30 million that will be needed for that replacement.
· $2.3 million will be spent on firefighting aircraft, a necessity of which WNC was recently painfully reminded.
With our economy now getting back on track and our budgets again under control, the General Assembly has committed to a number of new initiatives to accelerate our spending in education, one of NC’s top priorities. The following are some highlights of education spending for the upcoming budget cycle:
· Continued implementation of a plan announced last year to dramatically increase teacher pay – providing teachers an average 3.3 percent raise this year and 9.6 percent raise over two years, while also ensuring they earn far more over the course of their careers.
· Provides more than $35 million to substantially increase principal and assistant principal pay, including funds for performance bonuses for principals.
· A performance-based plan to substantially increase school principal pay.
· Includes $10 million in additional compensation for community college employees.
· Increases funding for public education by nearly $700 million over two years.
· Brings total K-12 spending from a 2010 low point of $7 billion to $9.4 billion in 2019.
· Invests an additional $11 million in textbooks and digital resources and increases funding for children with disabilities.
· Codifies the legislature’s intent to use data it is currently gathering from local school systems, in accordance with state law, to fund a new salary allotment for kindergarten through fifth grade program enhancement (music, arts, physical education) teachers beginning in the 2018-2019 school year.
· Supports the new N.C. Teaching Fellows Program through the N.C. Education Endowment Fund—one of the projects on which I worked.
· Provides additional assistance to community colleges for workforce training programs.
· Provides more than $27 million over two years to add 3,525 new pre-K slots—eliminating 75 percent of the waitlist for at-risk children.
· Upgrades the Controlled Substance Reporting System that will use advanced analytics to detect and fight prescription drug abuse.
· Allocates $15 million over two years to community health centers, rural health centers, free clinics, and other health services providers in rural and underserved areas that assist the uninsured.
· Invests $18 million to improve North Carolina’s child welfare program, including new training and prevention programs, and nearly $4 million to improve accountability and oversight of the system.
· Earmarks close to $3 million to provide support for additional foster children in the system.
· Continues preparing for the transition to Medicaid reform by allocating $75 million to grow the Medicaid Transformation Reserve.
· Includes more than $12 million for 400 new innovation waiver slots for people with intellectual and other related developmental disabilities that are at risk for institutional care.
· Designates $10 million for opioid and substance abuse treatment statewide.
· Allocates $19 million from the sale of the Dorothea Dix property to fund behavioral health beds.