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Edwards unveils N.C.’s good (and bad) news
Monday, 03 February 2020 12:39

From Staff Reports

An “update from the state legislature” was presented by state Sen. Chuck Edwards, R-Hendersonville, to the Council of Independent Business Owners on Jan. 17 at UNC Asheville’s Sherrill Center. 

About 80 people attended the address by Edwards, who announced on Sept. 4, 2019, that he is running for re-election in November in a bid for a third term.

Edwards began his roughly 15-minute address with a few jokes, some of which prompted some laughter and others that were greeted with silence.

The punch line of one of his jokes was “Tell new hires, ‘Don’t think of me as your boss, but rather as a friend who can fire you.’”

Another Edwards’ joke went along the lines of: “I used to be a banker, but I lost interest.”

Turning serious, Edwards then said, “So I’ve got some good news and some bad news this morning.

“The good news is North Carolina continues to do very well. In the most recent fiscal year, ending June 2019,” the state “ended with a budget surplus of $900 million. If you want to applaud that, I’ll pause.” At that, many in the CIBO audience applauded.

Edwards also added that “North Carolina has its lowest employment rate” ever. “In general, North Carolina is doing really great.”

Conversely, he said, “The bad news is politics is alive and well in North Carolina. I’m particularly frustrated wth some of the results of this past season, primarily in terms of the budget.

“We still don’t have a budget in North Carolina... I know this is an astute group of folks. I’m sure you know North Carolina has a statutorily approved budget.” Therefore, he noted, “all those keys things are happening” on which the public — and businesses — depend, resulting in many people being unaware of the budget standoff.

“The unfortunate thing is ... we’re missing a lot of things. A lot of it comes down to politics.... I probably slept about an hour last night after thinking about what I could tell you after what I’ve seen lately in Raleigh....

“We (the Republican legislators) had a good budget” (proposal) that totaled $24 million. The govenor (Roy Cooper, a Democrat) immediately came out” against it — and “there were all kinds of political threats made against Democrats who voted for the budget.”

So we had hoped sincerely, and had worked for months, to gain support” of the GOP budget proposal, “and then we lost it” because of threats, Edwards said. 

“Ultimately, we lost it,” he said of the fight to get the Republican’s budget plan passed.

“Really, it was about us being held hostage over Medicaid expansion... We feel Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act is not the right thing to do.

“We went back into a special session last Tuesday to override the governor’s budget veto,” but the effort was met by the Democrats’ stance of either “Medicaid expansion or nothing.”

Pausing, Edwards then said, “All we needed in the Senate was one Democrat to vote with us,” but no Democrat legislator could be found to cast a vote with the Republicans.

On a separate issue, Edwards asserted, “Senate Democrats had four chances to vote with us (Senate Republicans) for teacher pay raises. We had voted to give teachers another 3.9 percent pay raise. The biggest argument was... ‘It wasn’t enough.’”

At that point, Edwards asked those attending the CIBO meeting, “How many  of you are over wage administraiton?” In response, a vast majority of hands were raised. 

Edwards said that what he would have guessed — and he then told the CIBO attendees and guests, “If an employee is doing a good job, then you want them to keep up with the Consumer Price Index, which, last year, was 2 percent. If they’re going ‘over and beyond,’ you’d give them more” than 2 percent. “If they’re doing a less-good job, you want to” pay them less than 2 percent raises, giving “them
the opportunity to work elsewhere.”

To that end, Edwards noted that, “last year, (North Carolina’s) teacher pay was (ranked) 48th in country... In five years we’re 29th in the country — and second in the Southeast.”

After another pause, he asserted, “The 3.9 percent (teacher pay) increase (advocated by the Republican legislators) would have accelerated that (rise in the state teacher pay national rankings) — and I was really hopeful, but the Democrats did not feel that was enough.”

Edwards added, The thing that really frustrates me about that is because it was ‘poltical.’ Instead of working for North Carolina, efforts were made to block the budget and the teacher raises... That’s the frustration to me.

Then, Edwards turned to “some other good things” that have happened in the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

For instance, he said that he “and my good friend” (state Sen.) Jim Davis (R-Macon County)” were successful in getting full funding restores — “in just a few weeks” — for the current Department of Transportation projects. “That will help on I-26” widening to four lanes each way between Asheville and Hendersonville. (Davis, who attended the CIBO meeting, recently announced that he is seeking the seat from which U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows recently announced he is stepping down when his term expires in November.)

Another another matter, Edwards said that, “in last few years, hundreds of millons in dollars have been allocated along the coast for storm damage. In the meantime, many farmers in Western North Carolina had crops washed out repeatedly” from the same storms.

“So I was able to take quite an uphill climb” to get access to disaster relief funds. in the counties of Buncombe, Henderson, Madison and Haywood. “That simply wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been able to work with the Department of Agriculture.”

What’s more, Edwards said, “I’m extremely pleased I got 1,600 acres west of here (to be known) as Pisgah View State Park.”

On a more controversial issue, Edwards then noted that “one of the other pieces (of legislation that he pushed) that I think should interest Buncombe County was acquiring cooperation with ICE (The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency).

“You know we’ve got a sheriff  (Quentin Miller) in Buncombe County who refuses to cooperate with ICE and detain criminals who need to be questioned. I was very successful in rewriting a House bill that would require that cooperation. The House ultimately passed it. Every single vote was along party lines and the governor ultimately vetoed it.”

He then praised Davis for leading the General Assembly to pass the STOP Act and HOPE Act.

(The STOP Act is intended to prevent and reduce prescription opioid misuse, while strengthening North Carolina’s substance use treatment and recovery options. A primary goal of the STOP Act is to reduce excessive or otherwise inappropriate opioid prescribing.)

(The HOPE — Heroin and Opioid Prevention and Enforcement — Act generally is seen as an extension of the STOP Act.)

Edwards concluded his address by stating that, “Despite the fact we don’t have a budget, we managed to get some things done.”

During a brief question-and-answer session that followed, an unidentified man asked, “What’s the status of the hurricane relief down east that hasn’t been distributed?

“We deal with those kind of crises so rarely, it was almost ‘amateur hour’ in getting the money and getting it out,” Edwards replied. “It really has taken awhile… What we are doing in the legislature is really putting a process in place.”

Another unidentified man said that he “sits on the school board” and that “one of the problems is the morale of teachers? What’s the likelihood of another teacher raise in the next go-round?”

“I’m not hopeful,” Edwards replied. “I’m really not hopeful — unless there are some Senate Democrats who gain the courage to stand up and say, ‘We want the 3.9 percent.’

“From what I saw Tuesday (in Raleigh), I didn’t see that…. It (the teacher raise issue) can be used as a political club. Too many folks would rather use that as a political club than to move the state forward. I came back from Raleigh a bit more cynical.”

Edwards smiled faintly and left the lecture, at which point the CIBO audience erupted into applause.

CIBO Present Buzzy Cannady, who also serves as the moderator of its meetings, said on behalf of the group, “Thanks, Sen. Edwards, for being here and for all you do. It’s a tough job!”



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