North Carolina is a business-friendly state. It always has been. Legislators have taken a balanced approach—supporting and encouraging traditional manufacturing and services while providing incentives to entrepreneurs and emerging technologies and sciences. The Manufacturing Solutions Center and the Textile Technology Center have played a major role in the success of hosiery and textiles companies over the past three decades, thanks to funding from the state. The state appropriations enabled the centers to train personnel from successive generations for jobs in the plants. This money made possible the development of testing laboratories and resources—human and technology—to assist companies in the development of new high-performance products. They have been stewards for the path to the future. Thousands of jobs have been saved and created.
Business and government partnerships are not just desirable. They are essential. When the legislative action program was initiated by manufacturers of the Carolina Hosiery Association in 1992, the Hosiery Technology Center was struggling with a budget of $125,000, enough to pay managing director Dan St. Louis and no much more. Without the support of suppliers, it would not have had a future. Almost three decades later the Manufacturing Solutions Center operates with an annual budget of about $2 million and 20 employees in a different world. The story of the Textile Technology Center is equally dramatic with outreach and services to foreign-based companies establishing operations in North Carolina.
Business executives who took trips to Raleigh put a face on textiles and the supply chain. They also learned the complexities of governing. The industry owes them a lot.
On a personal note, I have been proud to play a role in the developing relationship over the past 27 years as a lobbyist and representative of the manufacturers in Raleigh. But it is time to go. With even more productive relationships involving the MSC, the Textile Technology Center and College of Textiles at NCSU, North Carolina is poised to be the undisputed textiles center of the United States.
It has been quite a run over the past 51 years. Good luck.
Another constitutional amendment proposed in the State Senate would have voters in North Carolina making the right to hunt and fish a law. Voters would vote either “for” or “against “the right to prowl the woods or fields or fish the lakes, rivers and oceans. The language in in the bill also mentions conservation and protection of wildlife. Legislators expect this to drive sportsmen to the polls this fall. The bill was heard in the Senate Agriculture Committee today.
After a week with sessions and committee meetings going late into the night, legislators this week have few meetings on the agenda. But still important issues are looming. The House Rules Committee today was expected to send to the floor a proposed amendment to the N.C. Constitution that will cap income tax at 5.5 percent. Such an amendment would be on the ballot this November for voter approval and the Republican majority in the House feels this could be a winning issue to repel a serious Democratic challenge. Some GOP Senators are not sure and are concerned about restricting future legislators. Should the General Assembly face another economic slowdown or crisis, finding new revenue would involve new taxes on sales and services and higher or new fees. A Democratic-controlled Legislature in 2007 adopted a “temporary” half-cent increase in the state sales tax and lost the majority in the following elections. Republicans rescinded the half-cent levy but have added services such as automobile repairs, appliance installations, etc. to the tax code.
The House has approved new judicial districts and court redistricting this week, but there is a question about the Senate’s interest. Getting a lot of attention is a provision in the Farm Bill that would prohibit liquid made from soy, almonds, coconut etc being labeled and sold as milk in North Carolina. Only dairy products could carry the milk designation. House leaders have declined to allow consideration of a bill that would permit school teachers to be armed with firearms. Local bills involving sales and occupancy taxes and annexations are being pushed with an eye toward adjournment (or recess) by June 21. But always politics and surprises determine when lawmakers finally pack up and go home.
State appropriations for the operations of the Manufacturing Solutions Center and the Textile Technology Center are included in the recurring budget for the State Community Colleges. The plan to create a North Carolina Fabrics Discovery and Innovation Center with the centers and North Carolina State University College of Textiles was suspended. Vocal opposition from a Senate appropriations chair prompted NCSU to pull back from the initiative. Timing may not help the undertaking. With $100 million going to special earmarks, the $7 million sought for the innovation center was not an insurmountable sum.
Last Friday the N.C. Legislature sent a $23.9 billion budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year to Gov. Roy Cooper. There are provisions that Gov. Cooper does not like, but it doesn’t matter. Republicans have a super majority in both the House and Senate and will overturn any veto from the governor who wanted more money for education, including teacher raises.
The governor also does not like pork barrel spending. The budget contains “earmarks” reportedly totally $107 million for spending in districts represented by Republicans. Observers said it was a “to the victors go the spoils” gesture. There were no special earmarks in districts represented by Democrats. GOP Rep. John Blust of Greensboro decried the budget process and was the lone member of his party to vote against the bill. Legislative leaders this year shut out debate and amendments in the process, presenting the budget as a conference report. Some Democrats warned this process could set a precedent in future years, with no transparency in the process.
Contributions this year to the state’s reserve account—the “Rainy Day Fund”–will push the total to $2 billion. This is a record high and it gives the state a cushion in case of an economic downturn or natural disaster. When the Great Recession hit 10 years ago, Democrats were in control and had to increase sales taxes to cover state appropriations to education, corrections, and other state agencies. Voters in the next election put Republicans in control of the Legislature.
Senate Bill 746 would allow Cabarrus County to adopt a local option sales tax of one-quarter of a cent to support schools. Proceeds can be used for capital projects and the county cannot divide proceeds to districts. The author of the bill is Sen. Paul Newton, a former Duke Power Co. president who supports charter schools. A similar bill reportedly is on the drawing board for Mecklenburg County where two municipalities want to establish charter schools independent of the CMS system. The bill requires county commissioners to call for a public referendum. The tax would not be levied on prepared food in restaurants etc.
Yesterday, Tuesday, May 29, the Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly rolled out their $23.9 spending plan for the state. No debate was allowed and no amendments permitted. Questions were heard, mainly from Democrats who were shut out of the process.
The budget this year embraces the $15 per hour minimum wage. The starting wage for state employees including maintenance personnel, will be $31,200. Some current employees will get a 30 percent wage increase when boosted to the new minimum. Teachers will get a 6.5 percent increase in starting salaries and the top echelon teachers will be raised to $52,000. Some $22.5 million is included for bonuses to teachers who improve reading and math scores in elementary schools. Veteran state employees will get a 2 percent wage increase. Law enforcement and security personnel also were targeted for higher than average increases. The starting wage for a highway patrol officer was boosted to $44,000 and corrections center guards receive increases.
The budget will be taken to the floors of the House and Senate this week for approval, expected to be along party lines. The leaders reportedly have selected a recess—or maybe adjournment—date for the third week of June. Still to come are proposed amendments to the State Constitution, including one that would set a cap on state income taxes.
The announced June 6 day for hosiery and textiles executives to visit the General Assembly has been canceled. The budget deliberations will have concluded and debates will be concluding during the week. Also the major initiative to create a N.C. Fabric Discovery and Enhancement Center under N.C. State University College of Textiles has been suspended. The center would combine the resources of NCSU, the Manufacturing Solutions Center, and the Textile Technology Center to expand services to the textile industry and the participating community colleges.
The College of Textiles withdrew the proposal for the current session when it was confronted by opposition of Sen. Kathy Harrington, an appropriations chair, from Gaston County.
This week House members urged the supporters to bring the proposal to the 2019 session.