Monday, May 20, 2013 —
A delegation from Stanly County traveled to Raleigh Tuesday to meet with legislators and to hear first-hand about state issues and how they may affect the county.
The gathering was hosted by N.C. Rep. Justin Burr and N.C. Sen. Gene McLaurin. Joining them in a question-and-answer session were House Speaker Thom Tillis, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and Senate Pro Tem President Phil Berger.
Burr gave an update on how the budget is progressing and explained that one of the challenges in balancing the budget is Medicaid. A shortfall of approximately $200 million is expected this year, Burr said, noting that he believes bad management of the service has led to the challenges now faced by the program.
McLaurin, who was sworn in earlier this year, spoke of his experience as a newcomer to the senate and on the importance of rural districts such as Stanly County.
“The answers to the problems we’re facing in North Carolina, I’m convinced, are not in Raleigh. They’re in the districts,” McLaurin said.
Members of the Stanly County delegation were invited to ask any questions they had for Burr or McLaurin.
The first question concerned proposed cuts to the Rural Economic Develop-ment Center.
McLaurin said that during a recent talk with the governor, it was the No. 1 issue he spoke about.
“I really have a concern about a reduction in the budget for the Rural Center,” McLaurin said, adding that he would fight for the program.
Burr said to not be surprised if discussions about how to appropriate funds fluctuate.
“The goal at the end of the day is that they are taken care of,” Burr said.
A question regarding House Bill 1005, which affects the number of positions on the Stanly County Board of Commissioners and Stanly County Board of Education, was directed to Burr. The bill, which was sponsored by Burr, would increase the number of commissioners by two and decrease the school board from nine members to seven. Burr said he has been listening to residents on both sides of the issue.
“I have been getting input from the community,” Burr said.
“I’m going to continue to take that feedback.”
A bill which would narrow the number of families eligible for North Carolina’s pre-K program by lowering the eligibility to the federal poverty rate, was another topic of concern.
McLaurin said there are many reports showing that pre-K programs are beneficial for children and that he was in favor of supporting early childhood education.
“It’s so important we fund early childhood to our fullest potential,” McLaurin said.
“We’ve got to show the world that North Carolina is serious about education. That’s how we’re going to bring jobs here.”
Burr said reducing eligibility from 200 percent of the federal poverty level to a number half of that would benefit children who need the program the most.
“We are focusing on those kids that are truly at risk,” Burr said, adding that there are currently more than 60,000 children who qualify for the program.
“We want to make sure the kids that really need it get those slots.”
The delegation also heard from Tillis, who spoke about the challenges faced with tax and regulatory reform, both of which, he said, are needed to get the economy back on track.
Berger agreed that the regulatory climate and current tax structure is detrimental to North Carolina’s chances in a competitive market. He said while most people agree that some type of reform is needed, it is hard to get everyone to agree on the details.
“We have an obligation to create a tax structure that is fair but generates revenue for services people expect,” Berger said.
Education and economic development, Forest said, are a primary focus when it comes to policies. He also discussed Medicaid and inadequate technology infrastructure in the state.
Following the discussion, the delegation from Stanly County was invited to attend a session of the House, where the group was officially recognized.
Stanly County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Ramseur, who is set to retire this year, was given a special recognition for his years of service with the Chamber.
“I was very pleased with our day in Raleigh. We were fortunate to have a large group of leaders from business, government, education and nonprofits, and I believe we made a great impression for Stanly County in the legislature,” Ramseur said.
“The fact we had such top quality and influential legislative leaders speaking to our group shows the influence and respect that Sen. McLaurin and Rep. Burr have in Raleigh. The Chamber is active in governmental affairs as they affect our members and the business community and we plan to continue our dialogue and relationships with the N.C. legislature.”
Erica Benjamin is a freelance contributor for The Stanly News & Press.