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Legislature’s actions rated terrific, horrific
Wednesday, 02 August 2017 12:56
By JOHN NORTH
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Sharply contrasting reports on the just completed “long session” of the North Carolina General Assembly were presented by two local legislators representing the two major political parties during the July 14 meeting of the Council of Independent Business Owners.

The hour-long breakfast meeting, which drew about 70 CIBO members and others, was held in the Mountain View Room at UNC Asheville’s Sherrill Center.

Making diverging presentations to the extent that they may have seemed akin to a parallel universe were Sen. Chuck Edwards, R-Henderson; and Rep. Brian Turner, D-Buncombe. Edwards spoke for 20 minutes and Turner, 10 minutes.

Following party lines, a bright and glowing assessment of the GOP-dominated legislature’s accomplishments was given by Edwards, while Turner gave a decidedly dark and dire summary.

Edwards also used part of his time to slam the coverage of the Asheville Citizen-Times, contending that the newspaper — decidedly liberal, in his assessment — is unwilling to print positive news about the actions of the General Assembly, where he and other conservatives hold sway.

Leading off, Turner said, wryly, “Yeah, I lost the coin toss, so I get to go first.

“We just finished the long session… There were 925 bills filed in the House, only 380 made it to the Senate. Only 145 made it potentially to law. It’s a rough ride trying to get anything done in Raleigh.”

At that point, Turner noted his concerns about the legislature making questionable moves.

“No. 1 is the cuts in the Department of Justice,” he said. “Reduction of 120 attorneys. Those are the folks we rely on for felony repeals. So that will be a big shift.”

Also, he said that the legislature has made cuts to funding for consumer fraud and elder abuse. “For those of you who have to deal with elder abuse and evictions, those things will be slowed down.

“We’re reaching crisis level funding for the courts,” Turner said. “We’re getting into constutitionally shaky areas for justice for the state” due to “lack of funding for court system in the state,” as a result of spending reductions by the General Assembly. 

“Another thing is cuts to the Department of Environmental Quality — cuts of service people,” Turner asserted. “Buncombe County has 59 hazardous waste sites. Those are all handled by DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality). So that backlog will get worse.”

At that point, Turner conceded that there also are “good things that are happening” in the General Assembly. Sen. Edwards and others in the WNC delegation are trying to get through a bill to increase the number of school counselors. Turner said the current number of counselors is inadequate to meet the large numbers of state students affected by trauma.

“I’ve got a bill dealing with mental health services in Buncombe County.” Turner added that his bill “would have diverted resources to where they were needed.

Turner also said there is “a big push” for dealing with opioid problems “in Buncombe County, particularly,” and statewide.  He praised the efforts of Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan (a Democrat) to get the opioid reversal drug Narcan “in the hands of those who need it... We’ve had some bumps in the road. We hope to get some of that money back (for the Narcan program) in the short session.”

Finishing with a humorous flourish that had CIBO members and others laughing, Turner quipped, “I don’t want to take too much time because I know Mac (Swicegood) has a bunch of questions.” (Swicegood is known for asking tough questions of CIBO’s guest speakers.)

Following Turner, Edwards began his address by holding up a July 12 printed edition of  the Asheville Citizen-Times — and noted that the headline stated:

 “Buncombe Democrats 
frustrated by GOP.”

Edwards said he showed the headline to his wife over dinner recently, promting her to order a second alcoholic drink. “She was just fuming,” he told the CIBO crowd.

“Up to this point, I felt the newspaper was fairly accurate and fair,” Edwards asserted. “If I were writing the headline, it would have said:

 "North Carolina is doing great 
and the Asheville Citizen-Times 
won’t print it."

Edwards also complained that “I’ve sent several press releases with some great things that have essentially been ignored and have not been covered by the AC-T. As a result, he said, good news — he reiterated — not being reported by the newspaper.

Next, in an apparent verbal jab at Buncombe’s Democratic legislators, he said, “If you spent your time in this past session trying to name spiders or legalize marijuana, then you deserve to be frustrated.”

Continuing, Edwards said, “Let me tell you… some great things that are happening.”

Edwards then turned to face Turner, who was sitting in the audence, and said, “And there are great things happening, Mr. Turner.”

Turner remain silent, but smiled.

Ticking off a list of what he termed great accomplishments as a result of the actions of the current General Assembly, Edwards noted the following:

• The state recently has earned AAA bond rating, which is considered excellent.

• North Carolina recently has amassed a $528 million surplus, meaning it has achieved fiscal stability.

• Forbes magazine recently reported that North Carolina now ranks as “the national model for tax reform.”

• The state tallied record tourism numbers for 2016.

• “We’ve seen unemployment drop from 11percent in 2010 (under a Democrat-controled General Assembly) to 4.5 percent this May” with Republicans at the helm.

• North Carolina was rated on July 11 as 15th best among states for fiscal strength by George Washington University’s Mercatus Center.

• North Carolina recently recored its highest-ever reading proficiency in its public schools. 

Edwards then noted that “Rep. Turner alluded to a number of things... It turns out any time you cut out jobs it becomes a crisis. I don’t think that’s ever going to change.

“Early part of the session was dominated by differences between the governor and the legislature. That truly took the oxygen out of the air...

“House Bill 2 (known as the “bathroom bill) no longer is a hindrance to business in North Carolina. We’ve taken care of that, while leaving bathrooms safe for women and children.”

Edwards added, “It is important for North Carolina to save your tax money in years to come by helping make sure that kids are prepared for life when they come out of the third grade.

“The third-grade, fourth-grade reading scores are one of the most critical factors, I’ve learned. If someone is a living, thriving human being, they’re much less likely to be dependent on society.”

What’s more, Edwards noted with pride, “We did manage to hold the (state) budget to a 3 percent growth...

“On the subject of taxes, we had a middle-class tax cut. Personal rates will fall… Ninety-nine percent of North Carolinans will see some sort of tax reduction with this tax package....

“We raised teacher pay. We added $700 million more for public education... Even while I’ve been in Raleigh, I’ve seen us accused of cutting public education” — and that is not true, he said.

“Right here at home, we got $15.5 million for the North Carolina School of Medicine at MAHEC,” Edwards said.

“We added money for firefighting aircraft... We did give every state employee a $1,000 raise — and I know every business-owner knows one way to keep employees involved is to give them an opportunity to raise their lifestyle.”

Further, he said, “The Asheville Airport received about $4 million in funds for improvements. Asheville Airport is now fourth-largest airport in North Carolina...

“We exempted military veterans from paying state income taxes... We raised principal and assistant principal pay... We provided performance-based bonuses

“Representative Turner did reference the STOP Act. I wasn’t aware the impact opioids are having on our society. It truly is a crisis. I’m excited that we’re beginning to make some steps on that.

At that point, Edwards quipped, as CIBO master of ceremonies loomed ever closer to him, “I see the hook coming.” The audience erupted in laughter.

“The legislature — and me in particular— have taken a lot of flak for being cruel to municipalities. The people in Asheville sent me a 22-page report and said, ‘You figure it out.’ We can improve our footprint with our representation in Raleigh.

“Last but not least is the Asheville districting bill. Folks, that’s not the end —  that’s just the beginning. If we just have 6 percent turnout, as we’ve had in the past, districts are not going to help us,” Edwards said, in finishing his address.

During a question-and-answer session that followed, a man asked, “What’s it look like in the future for projections for future spending?”

The state is projecting “a major shortfall for 2019,” Turner replied. “So we’ve got major work to do by reducing costs or increasing revenue. I talked about cutting 40 percent of the budget in the state Department of Justice. Likewise, when you’re talking about education spending, we are spending more. But if you’re talking about spending per student, it’s down.”


 



 


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