NC's Republican Legislative Leaders: A Peek At Their Priorities
State lawmakers gathered in Raleigh Wednesday for the first official day of this year’s legislative session. Members elected the Republican leaders of both chambers, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and a new Speaker of the House, Tim Moore. They say their priorities include continuing tax reform and job growth by making the state more business friendly.
It was a big day at the General Assembly, especially for Republican leaders who now have four years of governing both chambers under their belts. The newly elected Speaker of the House, Tim Moore, told a news conference that it was a nice occasion:
"Well, good afternoon. First of all, thank you all for being here today given the weather. We’ve had a very good session today good start to the session, with unanimous votes both for the rules for the Speaker and for the Speaker Pro Tempore. I hope that that indeed is setting the tone for the upcoming legislative session."
Previous legislative sessions governed by Republicans have been notable for a flood of legislation put forth by members on issues ranging from abortion to tax reform. Speaker Moore says much has been accomplished over the last four years.
"We’ve done so much as far as increasing the employment of folks in this state, creating jobs- roughly 260,000 people now have jobs that didn’t four years ago," says Moore. "We’ve lowered the unemployment insurance taxes. We’ve worked tirelessly to bring new jobs to this state. And we want to continue doing that."
Republicans like Moore are quick to take credit for the improving economy of North Carolina, while Democrats say the increase in jobs is a reflection of improvements in the national economy.
Phil Berger, the re-elected President Pro Tem of the Senate, says decreases to the corporate and personal income tax rates that have been in effect for a year now are also contributing to a better economic environment. Right now the state is running roughly $190 million behind projections, but Berger says he’s not worried.
"There are a lot of folks who think that what we’re dealing with is a situation that has to do with the timing. Remember, our sales tax collections are up substantially. Our corporate income tax collections are up. Where we’re lagging behind projections is with the individual income taxes," says Berger
Berger held a press conference back in 2013 with the national anti-tax advocate, Grover Norquist, to encourage members to get behind tax cuts. Some Republican legislators, including Senator Bob Rucho, were disappointed that the final tax cut bill didn’t include a true broadening of the base on goods and services, as bond agencies have long suggested. Both Berger and Moore told reporters yesterday that a number of members are still talking about broadening the base and that it’s part of a larger discussion surrounding tax reform. Reform also continues to be an issue when it comes to the state’s Medicaid system, according to Berger:
"The question of specifically what that reform looks like is one that we are at this point unable to answer in terms of there being a majority in the House and a majority of the Senate that says this is what it’ll be," said Berger.
Both the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Aldona Wos, and Governor Pat McCrory favor expanding and building on North Carolina’s nationally recognized system of delivering health care to Medicaid patients.
But a few key lawmakers who fear Medicaid cost overruns have favored bringing in managed care organizations to stay within the budget.
Another big question facing policymakers is whether to expand the state’s Medicaid program. Some previously uninterested Republican-led states across the country are now joining or expressing interest because it comes with millions and millions of federal dollars every year.
Governor McCrory has said he’s considering it, but Berger is pretty clear on how he feels:
"The issue of Medicaid expansion is one that we’ve answered time and time again, and I don’t see that the answer is any different at this point," said Berger. "There is in my view no good case that can be made that Medicaid expansion is the right thing for us to do in North Carolina."
Business incentives, teacher pay
In terms of what else to expect from this year’s long legislative session, Speaker Moore said a case could be made for providing more business incentives to bring more jobs to the state.
And Senator Berger said in his floor speech yesterday that he’d like to raise teachers’ starting salaries to $35,000 a year.