by John Ager, District 115 North Carolina House of Representatives
The North Carolina General Assembly is back in action! On January 11th, 120 members of the North Carolina House (including me) and 50 members of the North Carolina Senate, swore to uphold their constitutional duties. The political makeup of the House is little changed numbers-wise. In the House, the Democrats lost three rural seats and gained four urban ones for a net pick-up of one seat. Both bodies remain “veto proof.” The urban/rural divide is even more pronounced in North Carolina than it was before the election. The biggest difference is that North Carolina now has a Democratic governor, Roy Cooper. How will our state fare in the coming two years?
High on our “to do” list must be repealing HB2. Governor Cooper worked behind the scenes with House and Senate leaders, as well as the Charlotte City Council, to try to resolve this issue prior to his taking office. A special session to repeal HB2 was called just before Christmas, but it failed. I was disappointed that more effort had not been made to assure that legislators would support the deal before calling us all back to Raleigh. The GOP has been operating in the General Assembly under a self-imposed rule that nothing passes without the support of a majority of GOP legislators, and this too contributed to the failure.
HB2 continues to harm our state, codifying discrimination and hamstringing local government. The latest fallout is the report that, as a result of HB2, our universities are having a harder time attracting top-flight candidates. There is bi-partisan support to repeal the bill, and I would like to commend Chuck McGrady from Henderson County for his efforts make that case to his Republican caucus.
Education: A Difficult Policy Issue
Education continues to be one of the most difficult policy issues in the General Assembly. At one time, there was almost universal support for our public school system, but that is no longer the case. Besides the traditional, neighborhood schools, we now have a robust public charter system, school vouchers for private schools, a virtual school option and now a new school system for “failing” schools (the Achievement School District). Politically, the Democrats are pushing hard in support of the traditional schools, while the Republicans are advocating for their “school choice” agenda. Adding to this mix is North Carolina’s Home School movement, and the effects that technological advances have on the goals of education at every stage in the human life cycle.
Governor Cooper has already proposed a goal of raising NC teacher pay back to a mid-range among all states, and for some focus on administrator pay raises, which are way out of line. A new Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction was elected in November, which will bolster the “school choice” argument. The General Assembly responded to this change in power by shifting considerable powers away from the State Board of Education to the new Superintendent. Additionally, the re-election of Dan Forest as Lt. Governor aids this cause. Moreover, the Federal government under a Trump administration will be another ally, especially if Betsy DeVos is confirmed.
Challenges of Health Care
Health care will be a hot topic in Raleigh. Governor Cooper has already thrown down the gauntlet by advocating for Medicaid Expansion, a provision of the Affordable Care Act that would use federal funds (95%) to provide health insurance for perhaps 500,000 low income citizens of North Carolina. And now the ACA is going to be repealed and replaced under the Trump administration, throwing families, hospitals and health care providers into a state of confusion.
Health care costs make up about 18% of our entire American economy, and these costs are growing. The capabilities of healing have grown exponentially in my lifetime, and so it is not a surprise that we are struggling with a system of how to pay for it. 10% of the population is responsible for about 2/3 of the expense. Moreover, our population is aging, which will add new stress to our medical capacity. If we are unwilling to ration health care by the ability to pay, we have to either overcharge the insureds or subsidize the system with government payments (or both). The future of health care in America will play out in unpredictable ways at local, state and Federal levels over the next few years.
Another concern that I will be taking to Raleigh is the opioid crisis that is gripping the nation in general and Western North Carolina in particular. We are now seeing addicted mothers giving birth to babies who face drug withdrawal on day one. Finding foster homes for these children is a big challenge. We are fortunate that we have an excellent state-owned alcohol and drug treatment facility in Black Mountain. However, it is facing financial problems and operating under capacity. One of my goals is to bring this facility back to full operation. They are already making plans to treat addicted mothers while providing a way for them to be with their children.
There are many more issues we will take up in Raleigh, including climate change and the end to gerrymandering.
I feel fortunate to be alive during one of the most interesting times in human history, and I feel especially blessed to live in our community of Fairview.
Please feel free to contact me with your concerns or problems with state government, at my office in Raleigh (919-733-5746) or on my cell (713-6450).