Opinion: Daily Journal

New Session Could Be Short But Busy

The N.C. General Assembly’s biennial short session opens Wednesday. North Carolina does not have statutory session limits, so the session will last as long as necessary to finish business.

All indications point toward a session that will be short, with a continued focus on economic growth, job creation, and wise investments.

There will be tweaks and adjustments to state spending for the second year of the two-year state budget. Those tweaks depend on revenue, and unlike previous administrations, they will not include tax increases or additional debt. Any increase in spending will come from existing revenue.

How to make the math work and keep promises will be the biggest challenges of the 2014 short session.

Teacher pay increases top the to-do list. The governor and some legislative leaders are looking at pay increases for beginning teachers to attract more highly qualified professionals. They promise pay increases for veteran teachers as soon as additional revenue is available. The first step involves increasing starting teachers’ pay to $35,000 by the 2015-16 school year. McCrory unveiled ideas Wednesday for boosting all teachers’ pay.

An interim study committee has been looking at real concerns about Common Core public school standards and what is best for North Carolina. Expect a bill repealing the requirement to adopt Common Core; in its place, look for the creation of a commission of experts, economists, parents, and others outside the education establishment charged with recommending educational standards that will put North Carolina students first in the nation, with tests that mean something and assessments based on student performance.

While Opportunity Scholarships are tied up in litigation, more than 4,000 low-income families who applied for a voucher to attend a private school this fall are in limbo. Legislative leaders may change the funding source for the scholarships to ensure North
Carolina parents have choices in their children’s education.

North Carolina’s 25 percent tax credit for film production costs is due to expire in December. For every dollar that North Carolina taxpayers give to the film industry, we get back 19 cents in “benefits.” It’s time to pull the plug on this bad deal.

If corporate welfare must continue, taxpayers would be served better with a simpler, more transparent system that eliminates incentives targeted to specific industries. Let filmmakers compete with other industries for money from the Job Development Investment Grant and One North Carolina funds.

The General Assembly will address the recent coal ash spill into the Dan River, which has prompted concerns about water pollution, waste disposal, and cleanup costs. Duke Energy, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and environmentalists are weighing in. Initial ideas include moving all coal ash basins to lined containment areas away from water supplies, boosting monitoring, and reusing coal ash for commercial fill-in and grading.

The General Assembly should take the time to gather the facts, appraise the actual threat to public safety, and consider all the costs and benefits before moving forward. Duke Energy is a monopoly, and any actions could impose higher costs on ratepayers, retarding economic growth. Legislative action should be appropriate and not reactionary.

The latest unemployment numbers and other economic indicators are positive. Lower taxes, fewer regulations, and better investments have North Carolina on the right track. Wise decisions in the short session will keep the momentum going and the economy growing.

Becki Gray (@beckigray) is vice president for outreach at the John Locke Foundation.