December Legislative Report

Paul Fogleman,

HAPPIER NEW YEAR, THEY HOPE

With the end of 2013 in sight, North Carolina government officials already are looking to 2014 for a fresh start. And that includes legislators, the governor and his cabinet, and the congressional delegation.

The Republican-led General Assembly is anxious to put controversies behind them. New voter requirements and restrictions, fewer restriction on guns and ammunition, cutbacks to public education, and some quirky bills (a state religion) all have fired up voters in the urban areas of the state. In Wake County, were one in 10 North Carolina voters reside, two GOP House members already have announced Democratic opponents. In Mecklenburg County, where another 10 percent of the state’s voters live, Republicans are contemplating a reaction to the proposed takeover of the Charlotte Airport and creating a regional governing body.

Gov. Pat McCrory, a former Charlotte mayor, has experienced a difficult 2013. Most of his troubles have centered around the Department of Health and Human Services, now a lightening rod for the media. Computer malfunctions, hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts to address Medicaid payments, personnel turnover … all have been in the headlines. The reclassification of 1,500 state employees to “at will” status, meaning they are political appointees, has been controversial as well.

So … will 2014 bring a return to the euphoria of 2012? Republican leaders think it will. But Democrats smell blood with five GOP Senate seats they deem winnable. Even so, the GOP would maintain control of the Senate. For Democrats to gain control of the House, they would have to obtain a net gain of 16 seats. No one thinks this is likely … at least today.

SENATE BUDGET WRITER LEAVES

Sen. Peter S. Brunstetter of Lewisville in Forsyth County has resigned. He was one of the three top appropriations chairs in the Senate which has initiated the budget process in the 2013 – 14 session. Shortly after his resignation, Brunstetter endorsed Rev. Mark Harris for the U.S. Senate, underscoring the friction between the House and Senate. House Speaker Thom Tillis is in the GOP primary to unseat Sen. Kay Hagan in the November elections next year.

SHUFFLING THE DECK

Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker continues to revamp the state’s economic development structures. The regional partnerships are being dismantled, replaced with new, smaller districts to include counties with mutual interests. Recently during her visit with the Textile Technology Center in Belmont, Secretary Decker listed her priorities, with more exporting and support for entrepreneurs leading the list. She endorsed the creation of a business incubator in Gaston County and cited the success of a Durham program. Durham realtors, she reported, are participating in business recruiting, offering to discount fees to executives who move to Durham.

Recruiting businesses involves connectivity, she asserted. Health services, transportation, quality education, and … superior food. All are important elements in the decision to relocate, Decker said.

FOR CONGRESSIONAL RACES, IT’S THE AFC, STUPID

Seizing on the public reaction to the rollout of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), GOP congressional candidates are developing election and re-election campaigns on the disgust and distrust.

U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry staged a red meat hearing in Gastonia last month at which 51 AFC opponents were invited to speak. No supporter was allowed to testify “because of the overwhelming opposition to Obamacare,” the congressman explained.

U.S. Senator Kay Hagan is vulnerable, according to polls, and GOP candidates are expected to raise the heat for the May primary. Hagan has called for changes, but still supports the concept for insurance coverage for everyone.

OPENING DAY

Gavels will bang down to open the House and Senate for the 2014 session on Wednesday, May 14. After competitive primaries, members and leaders will be inclined to keep the session short, adjourning before July 15. The budget always is the main business for the short session. With slow business recovery in North Carolina, there should be no crisis for lawmakers. Gov. McCrory has said he will propose salary increases for public school teachers.

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