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Wednesday, 06 March 2019 11:47

From Staff Reports

Speaking first at the Feb. 1 meeting of the Council of Independent Business Owners at UNC Asheville, state Sen. Chuck Edwards, R-Hendersonville, prompted laughter from the crowd when he good-naturedly quipped, “I’m maybe the warmup act for the next two esteemed guests.”

The others addressing CIBO were new Asheville City Manager Debra Campbell and new UNCA Chancellor Nancy J. Cable. (Separate stories on their presentations appear elsewhere on this website.)

Continuing in a light vein, Edwards triggered further laughter when he said, “For the next legislative session, I don’t have a crystal ball, but there are two things I can say with great certainty,” in reference to what he termed the legislature’s “two key responsibilities: No. 1: Pass the budget and No. 2:  Adjourn.” 

Turning serious, he asserted, “In reality, the budget is the single biggest thing we do. It’s largely a statement of what our priorities are.

“Here are some things I’m pretty sure will happen... We expect the governor’s budget to be presented to the legislature by March 1. We expect the spending in that to be more than we’d consider fiscally responsible.

Edwards noted that, “the Senate’s take on the budget … is the growth in spending (2.5 to 4 percent) should not exceed the growth in population... We are off to a really good start in terms of the (current) budget.We’re running a $188 million-plus surplus.”

He then prompted further laughter when he quipped, “Hope everyone here pays your taxes so we’ll know on April1 15 what we’ll have to spend... One thing I know is we want to spend on education.”

Edwards added, “The other thing is a continued push for Medicaid expansion by the governor,” Roy Cooper, a Democrat. “I know there’ll be a push back from the Senate.

“With that Medicaid expansion, about 80 percent of the new enrollees would be single able-bodied adults between 18 and 65.

“We also know Medicaid in its current form is not a good plan — in personal responsibility and proactive health care.

“But what Carolina Cares would allow us to do would be to form our own plan for those who sincerely need our help... In this biennium, we’re spending $985 million outside of Medicaid to help these people. So don’t let anyone say North Carolina doesn’t care.”

Further, Edwards asserted “Another thing is a movement to continue to see ABC law modernization — changes to North Carolina’s antiquated ABC laws… I think you’ll see us pass some legislation that should help us ease the burden there. I also think there’ll be a (change) to broaden sales....

“I chair the Senate commerce and insurance committee — and that’s the committee that deals with ABC laws.

“Also, we’ll take a really hard look” at the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina “to help us continue building the economy in North Carolina.

“Another thing will be continuing to fund school construction. Municipal and local governments are certainly supplementing the operating and capital needs of schools. State government is handling capital needs.

“Henderson County and Buncombe County, the districts I represent, have done a tremendous job in meeting the needs for facilities. We are in far, far better shape. But in general in the state, we’ve not done a good job — not only in not keeping up the facilities in schools and colleges. Even at UNCA, despite the good job done by officials here, there are significant capital needs...

“Now that we understand the problems ... What is the solution? As you know, the speaker of the House (Tim Moore, a Republican) has presented a $2 million bond plan. Most of us are saying no, but we’ve put forward the North Carolina Futures Act. 

“The difference is, we will raise about $2 billion and we won’t bear the expense of an additional $1 million in interest. Now, the devil is in the details, particularly when I’m standing in a Tier 3 county like this. The real downside of that, being in a high-wealth county, we typically are the last ones to be looked at on a high-needs basis.” 

Nonethless, Edwards said, “I can almost guarantee you that there will be some form of school construction enacted in this session.

“Also, we’ll be looking at seven boards and commissions ruled unconstitutional by North Carolina. We have to figure out a way to restructure those boards and commissions, giving the state say-so on how those funds are spent. I’d say ‘Don’t panic.’ I have folks — mostly ‘environmental folks’ — coming out in panic... You may see some playdough, so don’t let it panic you.”

As CIBO’s chief and moderator Buzzy Cannady stood up and hovered nearby, Edwards triggered yet more laughter when he half-joked, “I see I’m about to get ‘the hook.’”

Turning serious again, Edwards ended his 20-minute legislative update by noting, “You’re going to see some more work on hurricane relief.”

During a question-and-answer session afterward, a man asked,  “You mentioned Tier 1, 2 and 3. Can you go into a little more detail on how all of that’s relevant to the distribution of education funds?”

“Sure,” Edwards replied. “Tier 1 would be the more impoverished areas. The Tier 3, presumably, would be the most economically viable counties.

“I want to revamp that tier system. It’s not fair to any of the counties I represent. All three counties I represent — Buncombe, Henderson and Transylvania — are Tier 3. But they’re not comparable to Mecklenburg or Wake,” which also are ranked Tier 3, but are exponentially larger, Edwards said.



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