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2017 Session Review

2017 Session Review

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.

State Legislature

Session Highlights

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. 

Lower Income Taxes for Individuals and Small Businesses

Chuck Edwards taxes

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

     

Budget Highlights 

For Western NC

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.

Education

Chuck Edwards education

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:

  • 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.

Health and Human Services

  • 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.

Agriculture and Environment

  • Increases funding for the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the Tobacco Trust Fund, and the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund.

  • Expands support for the aquaculture industry and provides funding for dredging to ensure valuable economic activity at the North Carolina coast can continue.

  • Allocates over $750,000 to expand international marketing of North Carolina agricultural products.

  • Provides funding for engineers to improve dam safety and review emergency action plans to help prevent catastrophic flooding.

  • Sets aside $2.3 million to purchase a new firefighting aircraft in the wake of devastating wildfires in Western North Carolina.

     

  • Provides $250,000 to the Department of Agriculture to continue fighting against federal overreach in the form of the new Waters of the United States definition after the Cooper Administration withdrew from the federal lawsuit challenging this unprecedented land grab.

Transportation

  • Increases funding for the Strategic Transportation Investments Program (STIP) by $320 million over two years, which will allow 100 new highway projects to be added over a ten-year period.

  • Includes $241 million to improve structurally deficient bridges across the state, adds $143 million to improve the condition and safety of existing roads, increases contract resurfacing by $20 million, and increases funding for pavement preservation by $30 million, extending the life of thousands of miles of roads.

  • Invests $100 million to fund immediate-need construction projects across the state that improve mobility and safety, reduce congestion, and spur economic development.

  • Includes $208 million over two years for a Roadside Environmental Fund dedicated to ensuring the safety and beautification of the state’s highways.

  • Modernizes the state’s transportation network by providing additional funding to airports across the state for infrastructure improvements, and to the State Ports Authority for infrastructure and dredging needs.

Other Fiscally Responsible Budget Provisions

  • The rainy day fund grows to $1.838 billion, or 8.2 percent of last year’s budget – the largest dollar amount and percentage in state history.

  • $125 million will go to make needed repairs and renovations to state and university facilities.

  • North Carolina’s military operations will help to be preserved with $2 million for the next Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC).

  • The commitment to improving government transparency continues by funding a website that makes every state agency, county, and local school district budget available for citizens to view online.

  • Those who provide our services, our dedicated state employees, will receive a $1,000 across the board wage increase.

  • Government operations efficiency is targeted in a fully-consolidated statewide Enterprise Resource Planning system.

  • The office of the State Auditor will conduct more specialized audits, and funding is allocated to assist the state Department of Revenue and Department of Insurance in identifying and preventing fraud.

Strengthening the Voice of District 48

One of the projects of which I am most proud this session was to work to get more District 48 citizens appointed to the various NC Boards and Commissions. For those of us who would like to see the mountain voice amplified in Raleigh, having more representation from our area is yet another method to do so. These important positions are thankless, and they are usually invisible to the people living in our district, but they play important roles in our lives—sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly. The following is a list of seven area residents that deserve our gratitude for their willingness to serve us:

  • Henderson County Commissioner Colonel Grady Hawkins was appointed to the NC Judicial Standards Commission effective January 1, 2018.

  • Mrs. Marybeth Burns of Henderson County was appointed to the NC Commission for Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse Services effective July 1, 2017.

  • Mr. John A. Ross of Henderson County was appointed to the NC Irrigation Contractor’s Licensure Board effective July 1, 2017.

  • Ms. Terry Maybin of Henderson County was appointed to the North Carolina Partnership for Children, Inc. effective immediately.

  • Mr. Kevin Howell of Transylvania County was appointed to the Outdoor Heritage Advisory Council October 1, 2017.

  • Mr. Jim Peterson of Arden was appointed to the UNCA Board of Trustees effective July 1, 2017.

     

  • Transylvania County Commissioner Mike Hawkins was appointed to the Economic Development Partnership for NC effective October 1, 2016

HB589- The Energy Bill

Energy BillI was shocked, honored, and surprised that the Senate President Pro Tempore, Phil Berger asked me just a few days before the end of session to join an elite 3-member conference committee to represent the Senate to work out the differences with the House on H589—a monumental energy bill. H589 helps us grow alternative forms of energy while saving our citizens about $850 million over the next 45 months.

Without changes required by this bill, our power companies would have been required to continue to purchase previously determined amounts of energy from clean energy sources at rates determined by formulas that resulted in above-market rates.

The issue was raised during our discussions and turned out to be the most contentious one contained in the bill,—that conflicting information exists on the possible interference of wind turbines in the flight paths of training missions conducted at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. While having a keen interest in the advancement of affordable alternative energy sources, we also recognized our responsibility to our US military, the security and safety of our citizens, and the economy of NC to not guess which set of conflicting reports might be correct, but to ensure the right decision is made using only fact-based information. Some tout comments made by military personnel that are forbidden to enjoy free speech rights or to engage in issues that might have political ramifications that flight paths might not be affected by wind turbines reaching 328 feet tall. Others referenced a Joint Land Use Study Report updated earlier this year by the NC Dept. of Commerce and the US Dept. of Defense that recommends the development of a map to address concerns for vertical obstructions.

Recognizing the high risk to the safety of our nation and our military personnel, the need to protect NC’s $66 billion military-related economy and the 577,000 related jobs—we worked tirelessly, once until 2:30 AM to devise a bill that best addressed all the given concerns. The result was to allow 18 months for the completion of the aforementioned Joint Land Use Study Report recommendation. In the meantime, wind energy advocates may proceed with permitting their installations, the lengthiest part of the process.

On the last night of session at about midnight, after thinking we had reached an impasse, we finalized a deal that passed both chambers shortly after 1:00 AM. We are waiting to see if the governor will sign or veto the bill, or lay it aside to automatically go into law.

Municipal Water and Sewer Impact Fees

Prior to the beginning of session some of the municipalities which I represent came to me and explained their concern over the recent NC Supreme Court ruling in Quality Built Homes, Inc. et al. vs. Town of Carthage. This ruling invalidated impact fees collected by municipalities for the expansion of their water and sewer systems. More importantly it provided that the municipalities could be sued for fees they collected then spent on the promised infrastructure for the previous 10 years. This they felt left them with massive financial exposures that could have easily forced some into bankruptcy.

Once in Raleigh and recognizing that other Senators had similar concerns from their municipalities, I became a primary sponsor of S641 and began working with a group of legislators to formulate a workable solution to the problem. Later a number of sister bills were filed, then we collectively and ultimately agreed to use H346 as the vehicle for the solution.

H346 provides a transparent and reliable formula for municipalities and builders to use going forward for the collection and use of impact fees, and it limits the liability for municipalities that have collected such fees in the past.

Other Noteworthy 2017 Legislative Accomplishments

Here are some of the other actions taken by the legislature this year that will positively impact the lives of our citizens:

  • We exempted retired military veterans from paying state income taxes on their pensions.

     

  • We expanded tools to recruit new businesses to the state, including ‘transformative projects’ that could employ thousands of North Carolinians.

     

  • We provided additional performance-based bonuses to more public school teachers who help improve academic outcomes for their students.

     

  • We passed sweeping changes to the state’s burdensome regulatory environment to cut through red tape that chokes off economic growth.

     

  • We helped combat the opioid addiction crisis by passing the STOP Act to ensure highly-addictive prescription drugs are responsibly administered and not over-prescribed. Lawmakers also directed $10 million toward statewide opioid and substance abuse treatment.

     

  • We began the process to “raise the age,” aligning North Carolina with the overwhelming majority of states that try 16- and 17-year olds suspected of misdemeanor offenses and less serious felonies as juveniles.

     

  • The Senate completed a thorough and transparent confirmation hearing process of the governor’s cabinet secretaries, where senators evaluated their qualifications, possible conflicts of interest and willingness to follow the law.

     

  • We strengthened laws against human trafficking and laws to increase awareness of the warning signs of trafficking.

     

  • We joined 47 other states with modernized ABC laws, helping boost the state’s restaurant and tourism industry.

     

  • North Carolina's social service system was overhauled to address substantial issues in our child welfare program to ensure the safety of kids.

Chuck's Senate Committee Assignments

Click on the Committees below for more information on each.

Appropriations on General Government and Information Technology

Commerce and Insurance

Education/Higher Education

Health Care

Pensions and Retirement and Aging

State and Local Government

Joint Legislative Economic Development and Global Engagement Oversight Committee

Joint Legislative Study Commission on Efficiency and Cost-Savings in State Government

Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Information TechnologyJoint Legislative Oversight Committee on Information Technology

Revenue Laws Study Committee