News: CJ Exclusives

House Speaker Thom Tillis, in His Own Words

Mecklenburg County Republican says legislature will be leaner under his leadership

Newly elected Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis of Cornelius sat down with Carolina Journal reporters on Tuesday for a wide-ranging interview on the 2011-2012 legislative session. Excerpts from the interview are below:

• On cooperation between the House and Senate on budgeting: “We are inviting the Senate to be actively engaged in all of our deliberations. We think that by doing that we can minimize the amount of time that will be required once the Senate ultimately gets [the budget], and virtually eliminate the need for conference.”

• On when the session will wrap up: “I was told as a speaker you need to be careful and not stake yourself out. There are a lot of things I’m going to stake myself out on, and one of them is that we need to get out of here sooner. We’re starting a month earlier than we normally have, so as far as I’m concerned we’ve gained a month just by organizing as quickly and starting … We want to get done and get out of here.”

• On how the first week will pan out legislatively: “We have a 100-day agenda. We intend to fulfill the promises that were made in that 100-day agenda. Now, whether that is legislation that is filed and moved over the next two weeks, or begins to move in the 90th day of that agenda, with the goal of getting it introduced and moved, we’ll work that out as our legislative agenda takes shape, as we get a real understanding for what we need to do with the budget, what we need to do with redistricting, the capacity that we have to move the other bills and in what sequence. We’ve had people come out there and say, ‘You ran on jobs and the economy and redistricting, and now you’re going and talking about another agenda item.’ Although I want to be lean, the expectation that we would only pass two bills this cycle is probably not right. We will pass several hundred bills, and there will be far fewer introduced than in past sessions.”

• On legalizing video poker and having the government run it: “We’ve got to take a look at it. We have a number of members in our caucus that are uncomfortable with it. We have a fair number of members who think that this is at least on the fringe of the whole idea of limited government and free market principles. So we’re going to have to have those very valid arguments weighed in the caucus and then in the committee process.”

• On eliminating the charter school cap: “We will send a very clear message that we believe public charter schools are an important part of the options we provide families to get our kids educated, and to be in combination with continuing to make progress on our traditional public schools.”

• On reducing the number of government-run boards and commissions: “I think that it is wise to reduce the number of boards and commissions, and it is intuitively obvious that we have too many of them. We’ve just grown. Some of them have a difficult time getting members, I understand … I haven’t seen the governor’s proposal. We applaud her for the thought process. But if we see boards and commissions that are more likely to promote free enterprise, business-friendly policy, we’ll have to take a look at that, because we may see that there are suggested for elimination that may have a real value.”

• On addressing underfunding of the state pension system: “It’s part of our overall fiscal strategy. It is just bad management to leave that out there and to not fund it. The other question is, long term, how do we manage those decisions? To what extent do we have to look at alternatives to the current pension system? We’ll have people look at that.”

• On abortion-related bills: “We have members in our caucus who have very strong feelings about those bills. We’re going to look at them and give them serious consideration. Again, it all has to be in balance … Those sorts of bills that we believe, first, will be of value to the expectant mother, and may also save a few lives, I don’t think that’s limiting abortion. We can’t, by law, limit abortions. What we can do is provide expectant mothers additional information that may cause them to exercise a choice that is beyond the only choice some people want or expect a mother to have.”

• On a marriage amendment: “The marriage amendment is something else we’re looking at. We’re conferring with the Senate. It will be a product of our caucus, and I have encouraged all of our members to sit down and talk about our legislative agenda, make recommendations. You’ll see those recommendations come out over the next several weeks.”

David N. Bass is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.