By John Ager
The 2017 Long Session in Raleigh is off to a slow start. With a Democrat as Governor, and a veto-proof Republican General Assembly, there has been a lot of back-and-forth political jockeying. Governor Cooper has been pushing hard for a repeal of HB2, aided by threats from the NCAA to deny North Carolina hundreds of lucrative sporting events over the next six years.
After the debacle of the failed HB2 special session in December, another attempt at repeal has been presented, but neither Senator Burger nor Speaker Moore have so far shown any public support for repeal. Rep. McGrady has introduced HB186 as a compromise repeal, and as of this writing it is not clear whether this bill will satisfy those boycotting North Carolina, or whether enough House members will vote for it.
Senate confirmation of Roy Cooper’s agency heads, one of the surprise limits on his power passed in December, is bogged down by legal proceedings and political bickering. All in all, with the fireworks in Washington dominating the news cycle, state politics may not be getting the attention by North Carolina voters that it warrants.
North Carolina remains fiscally sound as we enter 2017. Our economy continues to grow and diversify. In our current fiscal year (which ends on June 30th, 2017), state revenue should exceed the conservative estimates made last summer by more than $552 million. Much of that increase stems from the recent increase in the number of jobs in North Carolina, leading to an increase in payroll taxes. (There is always the chance of an April surprise with these numbers, and we all know what happens in April.)
More Demand for Services
However, more jobs means more people moving to our state and more demand for services. North Carolina schools are growing along with the jobs, and will eat up much of the surplus. With inflation at 2.1%, Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) will cost another $270 million. We also expect that North Carolina has another large bill looming to pay for Hurricane Matthew and the fires here in the West.
School Class Size
One of the first items on our Agenda is to address a serious policy issue that was created in the budget. The House and Senate could not agree on K-3 funding last summer, and left the mandate that class sizes would be reduced. While this is a laudable goal, implementation of the changes (and hiring more teachers) would require firing many art, music and PE teachers.
Moreover, school systems would need many more classrooms for the coming school year. Building costs are the responsibility of County government. House Bill 13, which will allow for local flexibility with class sizes, passed unanimously in the House and, hopefully will have passed the Senate by the time this article is published.
The General Assembly is fully committed to creating an educational program that has every child reading by the end of third grade. Trying to balance the costs of teacher assistants, class size and ancillary teachers will be a large part of our budget debate this year. The General Assembly will also form an important task force to review and reform the various funding formulas for public education in response to a Program Evaluation Department study of the issue.
Climate Change and Income Inequality
There remain two large issues facing our state and nation, issues we will be wrestling with for the foreseeable future: climate change and income inequality. And then there are some interesting tiny issues that come up in the General Assembly. One bill would make it illegal to drive a car with a pet on your lap! Another bill would name a state feline: the bobcat. And yet another marginal bill would set in motion a referendum to allow North Carolina to secede from the United States.
Please contact me with your concerns or issues you might have with state services.
Rep. John Ager, District 115 North Carolina House of Representatives.
John.Ager@ncleg.net, email@example.com, 628-2616 / 713-6450 cell