News: CJ Exclusives

Finding common ground may elude 2017 General Assembly

Republicans, Democrats have differing priorities as they enter long legislative session

CJ file photo
CJ file photo

Perhaps the biggest task facing a Republican-controlled General Assembly when it returns from a two-week hiatus Wednesday is finding common ground with a new Democratic governor, and vice versa.

That’s a significant challenge, considering the contentious nature of last year’s special sessions and the flurry of lawsuits that followed.

Lawmakers will work toward passing a $22 billion-plus General Fund budget, adjusting education policy, regulation reform, and fine-tuning the tax code.

For starters.

The controversy surrounding House Bill 2 — the so-called “bathroom law” — isn’t going away.

House Majority Leader John Bell, R-Wayne, said he and Gov. Roy Cooper, who are both from eastern North Carolina, met more than a week ago in search of common ground on a bevy of issues, including those involving North Carolina’s teachers.

“We both have concerns on how to recruit and retain good teachers here in the state of North Carolina,” Bell said. “We have to have a pipeline to be able to recruit good teachers in North Carolina.”

During his opening day remarks two weeks ago, Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said addressing teacher pay and education are priorities.

“We’ll continue efforts to reform and improve public education for our students and have already committed to raising average teacher pay to $55,000 over the next two years,” Berger said. “We will remain focused on providing a bright future for our children and helping build a capable workforce that will attract businesses to our state.”

House Minority Leader Darren Jackson, D-Wake, wants to see planned teacher raises, as opposed to the practice of passing out raises in election years.

“I’d like to see a long-term plan, a four- or-five-year plan to get us to the national average,” Jackson said. He said he thought that could be done without increasing taxes, as revenue is exceeding expectations by about $300 million.

The “new direction at the U.S. Department of Education” could affect education policy by allowing more decisions to be made at the state and local levels, Bell said.

“Also for the first time in state history, we have a Republican superintendent of public instruction,” Bell said.

Taxes, regulation, energy policy

Bell said tax reform could be on the agenda, as might studying policies on renewable energy.

“We’ll continue to look for ways to reduce the tax burden on families, small businesses, and other job creators, helping them keep more of their own money,” Berger said.

Jackson said he hopes any revisions in the tax code would be geared toward the “middle-income and working poor.” He wants to see repeal of the recently passed sales tax on automobile service. “I thought that was very regressive in nature,” he said.

He wants to reinstate the Earned Income Tax Credit.

“We’re going to put a really strong effort to get a regulatory reform bill done,” Bell said.

Berger said lawmakers would do more “to simplify outdated, job-killing rules and regulations” to continue improving North Carolina’s business climate.

House Bill 2

Jackson said repealing H.B. 2 is a priority for him and the Democratic caucus.

“We certainly hope we can address that early in session,” Jackson said, referring to it as time-sensitive.

“Greensboro, Raleigh, and Charlotte have some outstanding bids with the NCAA for some tournaments for the next four or five-year period,” Jackson said. “That bid deadline is very soon.”

Last year, the NCAA cited H.B. 2 as a reason for moving scheduled neutral-site tournaments out of North Carolina.

“Those tournaments are really important to our cities and to our arenas,” Jackson said. “A lot of public dollars went in to building those arenas and it would be a shame. In the end, the taxpayers are going to pick up any shortages.”