Tuesday, May 13, 2014 —
Sen. Gene McLaurin (D-Stanly) said the problems and opportunities faced within the state are here in the district, not in Raleigh.
McLaurin addressed the crowd of more than 150 Monday at the Stanly County Chamber of Commerce Legislative Breakfast.
Jobs, teacher pay, mental health services and government regulation were among the topics discussed during the event sponsored by Electricities of North Carolina and Stanly Community College at the Stanly Regional Medical Family & Education Center.
McLaurin joined Rep. Justin Burr (R-Stanly) and representatives from the offices of U.S. senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Kay Hagan (D-NC) and U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC) to share a word from the political front lines as well as to field questions.
Headed back to Raleigh for Wednesday’s start of the short session, Rep. Justin Burr emphasized fiscal responsibility and its role in creating a better climate for business.
“We were ranked 44th in the nation and now we are down to the 17th most business friendly state in the country, so it's a move in the right direction, but there is certainly more work to do as our federal and global economy continues to struggle,” Burr said.
He said North Carolina, once with one of the highest levels of debt in the nation, now has the sixth lowest.
Among the challenges the legislature will face this year is massive growth in the Medicaid program, Burr said.
“We are working to try to tame that to make sure to keep that under control,” he said.
He mentioned the Tar Heel Challenge program being established at the old New London School as well as Stanly County having its own judicial district as local issues of note.
McLaurin, a longtime businessman and former mayor of Rockingham, described himself as a strong advocate of public education. In addition to improving the business climate, he talked about the need to protect North Carolina’s land, water and air.
“It’s so crucial as we prepare for the next generation and the jobs of the future and this beautiful part of North Carolina that we leave our children and our grandchildren that we do everything we can do to protect our environment,” he said.
Chris Carter, speaking on behalf of Hudson, said the congressman’s top three priorities are jobs, jobs and jobs. He emphasized Hudson had worked to rein in the growing Transportation Security Administration, getting an acquisitions reform bill passed in the House of Representatives.
Sen. Richard Burr’s representative, Josh Ward, talked about the senator’s proposed Patient Care Act, a net tax reduction alternative to the Affordable Care Act, as well as legislation he said would simplify the student loan industry and make it more equitable by tying loan rates to the 10-year treasury rate. He also described the ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) Act, which would allow for tax-free savings accounts for individuals with disabilities.
Ward said one of Burr’s goals is to help “create an environment where people can do what’s best for them, as close to them as possible.”
Both Carter and Ward emphasized the importance of working together on issues that can garner bipartisan support, especially since the House and Senate are under control of opposing parties.
In response to a question regarding the state’s position on Common Core educational standards, McLaurin said he wanted more feedback from teachers and business people and had not yet made up his mind, while Burr said the question hinges on whether North Carolina should have federal standards or state standards. He said he thought a committee recommendation to replace Common Core over the next two years with standards tailored to North Carolina was a good one.
Challenged to address the issue of teacher pay, in which the state ranks 46th in the nation, Burr reminded the crowd that education funding involves federal, state and local monies and that the state spends 57 percent of its budget on education. He said plans are in place to bring starting teacher pay up to $35,000 and to increase the salaries of veteran teachers as well. McLaurin said North Carolina must do better and that it will take a “bold initiative” to make it “the education state” he wants it to be.
On a similar note Carrie Cook, who has worked with Hagan since 2009 and was representing her at the breakfast, said successful education will take investments in jobs, training and post-secondary opportunities that help match employers and employees with the right skill sets.
In response to questions about mental health services, Burr said the state has “wronged a lot of folks” over the past 12 years or so as efforts to deinstitutionalize the mentally ill led to funding cuts for beds, but didn’t channel resulting savings into community programs. He said the state is working on repairing the damage with programs such as telepsychiatry and three-way bed contracts, but it will take time. McLaurin said he would support a shared savings approach to behavioral health services via Medicaid reform.
Ward, Carter and Cook addressed questions about the cost of federal regulations to businesses. Ward said regulations have to be smarter, more targeted and more industry specific and that small businesses need a place at the table when environmental regulations are created. He said Sen. Burr supports a plan that would move the EPA under the Department of Commerce. Carter cited Hudson’s support for the REINS (Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny) Act and the Sunset Act to help combat bloated bureaucracy. Cook said Hagan stressed efficiency and effectiveness in evaluating government programs and had sponsored a bill that eliminated a lot of burdensome paperwork and duplicative regulations for businesses.
Stanly County Chamber of Commerce officials thanked everyone who had a hand in Monday’s event.
“The Chamber was very pleased with the turnout and support of the community.” Chamber President Kathy Almond said.
“Our legislators, local elected officials, the community at large and the Chamber Board were all well represented.”
Luanne Williams is a freelance contributor for The Stanly News & Press.