By Brian Graves, News Editor
Wednesday, September 4, 2013 —
The state’s new voter ID law is just “common sense” and the national media are the ones making it seem to be something it is not.
That was the opinion of N.C. Rep. Justin Burr (R-Albemarle) Monday night as he addressed the recent session of the state legislature to the local Council on Governments.
Burr served as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and vice chairman of the House Rules and Operations Committee.
He said those roles allowed him to have “a seat at the table” when decisions where being made.
“It helped to make sure our district had a voice in the legislative process,” Burr said.
Discussing the Voter ID bill, Burr said for him it was “a logical thing to do.”
“Over 30 other states already do it,” Burr said.
He said the system will be implemented in stages.
A photo ID will not be required through the 2014 elections. But voters will be informed they must have one to participate in the 2016 elections.
“Voters will have to sign a paper showing they understand the requirement,” Burr said.
“I think it makes sense. You have to have a photo ID to do just about anything else.”
When questioned as to whether the new requirements hindered the ability of minorities to vote, Burr said that was not the case.
“We are trying to keep criminals from voting,” he said.
After the meeting, Burr expanded his thoughts on the voter law.
“The only place where it seems we have placed issues like this over the other pressing issues is in the national media,” Burr said.
“In Raleigh, I spent all of my time working on the budget. The national media wants to whine about it.”
He said there is not a concern about a bad impression being left about the state with the stories of the voting bill.
“If we let it get to us, it means we’re letting the national media drive us where to go and we can’t do that,” Burr said.
Burr said the state bodies had some difficult decisions having to deal with a $3 billion shortfall two years ago.
He said this year’s $20.6 billion state budget represents “responsible growth.”
“I think it fulfills the promises we made that we would work to control spending and reduce taxes and put North Carolina back on a path to economic prosperity,” Burr said.
He noted what he said was a major commitment to education, with 58 percent of the budget dedicated to serving grades K-12.
“It is a 2.1 percent increase over last year. It’s not as much as some would like, but it is a slight increase in order to meet the critical needs,” he said.
He said the budget funds the Excellence in Public Schools Act which funds programs to improve literacy and the graduation rates.
“It also moves us toward more accountability from the local school systems,” Burr said.
He said the budget also provides for school safety measures “particularly in light of what we’ve seen in other areas.”
“We have created more opportunities to have ‘panic buttons’ in the schools and make sure we have school resource officers (SRO) available,” Burr said.
Currently in Stanly County, only the high schools and one middle school have the officers posted at the respective campuses.
“We need to make sure those officers are available at all levels,” he said.
Burr also said the Health and Human Services Department was fully funded in the budget.
“The Medicaid portion is a beast and the state has to deal with one-third of it,” Burr said.
“When we came in this year, we had high hopes of giving pay raises and making other positive moves in that direction.
“As we went through the session, we continued to receive bad news about mismanagement and growth beyond what was expected in Medicaid.”
Burr said making fixes to the state’s Medicaid program “ate up half a billion dollars.”
“It took away our entire surplus for the year,” he said.
“It made it very difficult for us to do some of the things we wanted to do.”
He said an additional $1 billion of state funds had to be placed into the Medicaid system because of federal mandates.
Burr said the governor and a special commission are working on a plan to find ways to save money and privatize some portions.
“Obamacare has limited our ability to change anything and it has handcuffed our state,” he said.
In the area of commerce, Burr said the Rural Center has been revamped into a new authority under the Commerce Department.
“We were forced to create a new authority — the Rural Infrastructure Authority — which will do what the Rural Center did. There is also a Water Infrastructure Authority to focus on helping rural communities on those needs,” Burr said.
Burr also mentioned the $3.1 million that was appropriated to establish the Tarheel ChalleNGe Academy in New London.
“This is a facility that will help those who want to go back to school and who want to succeed,” he said.
“It is the most successful dropout prevention program in the country and New London will be only the second of its kind in the state. This is a huge win for Stanly County.”
He said in the transportation area the governor and legislature made sure to “break down the barriers and make sure that road funding is flowing to the appropriate areas and we are prioritizing and accelerating the important transportation programs.”
He also highlighted the tax reform package passed this session.
“Because of that, North Carolina will move from being 44th to 17th in competitiveness for new industry,” Burr said.
“I think that’s a good selling point for our state and makes us competitive with our neighboring states. We haven’t had that ability before.”
He said the legislature will go back into session this week in an attempt to override Gov. Pat. McCrory’s vetoes of an immigration bill and a bill that would require food stamp recipients to pass a drug screening.
To submit story ideas, contact Brian Graves at (704) 982-2121 or brian@ stanlynewspress.com.