Chamber Board adopts Legislative Agenda

The Chamber’s 2016 Legislative Agenda has been approved unanimously by the Board of Directors and shared with local legislators.

“There’s some ‘unfinished business’ we would like lawmakers to take care of when the General Assembly convenes in Raleigh for the Short Session Monday, April 25,” said Mary Carlyle Brown, Chair of the Chamber’s Public & Government Affairs Committee.

“There has been some movement in the Chamber’s top-tier of priorities,” she said, “and we are strongly advocating the elimination of the Economic Development Tier System in this legislative session.

“The Board approved moving this issue up to become a high priority in our 2016 Legislative Agenda,” Brown said.

“We are optimistic this can be accomplished, now that a special legislative committee has come to the same conclusion we have – that the system has been fundamentally flawed.”

As background, the General Assembly Program Evaluation Division reported December 14, 2015, to the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee that the tier system was not working to assist communities that are truly economically distressed.

The report recommends discontinuing the state tier system and to establish a legislative commission to re-examine the state’s strategy for identifying and assisting chronically distressed communities.
“The Chamber encourages Senator Norman Sanderson and Representative Pat McElraft to sponsor legislation to eliminate the tier system as soon as possible,” Brown said.

Other top-tier legislative priorities for the Chamber are:

Transportation Funding and US 70 Corridor Improvements:

Federal legislation was passed in 2015 to designate US 70 as a “Future Interstate” from Garner in Wake County to the Port at Morehead City.  “We encourage the General Assembly to seize this opportunity at the state level, leveraging the importance of military connectivity to the port,” Brown said.

“Great advancements were made in 2014-15 toward construction of the Gallants Channel Bridge on US 70 from Radio Island to Beaufort. The Chamber applauds NCDOT and the U.S. Coast Guard for collaborative efforts to resolve the bridge design and settle on a 65-foot, fixed-span bridge, effectively and adequately addressing the needs of both vehicular and boating traffic.  The new bridge will eliminate motorists’ delays and traffic congestion, while improving accessibility for emergency vehicles that must travel US 70.

“We are greatly encouraged that this construction project is zipping right along at a pace that is running about one year ahead of schedule.  The NCDOT is hopeful that the bridge will be open for traffic in the fall of 2016.  The Gallants Channel Bridge is a pivotal piece of the overall plan to upgrade all 135 miles of US 70 east of Raleigh to better serve the Down East communities and the Port.

“Furthermore, the Chamber supports construction of the Northern Bypass in Carteret County from the Port to connect with the Havelock Bypass in Craven County, also part of the US 70 corridor.  We supported NCDOT in selecting the route for the Havelock Bypass that affects the fewest number of people and structures and has the least impact on the environment…and we commend NCDOT for pressing ahead.”

Maintain Uniform School Calendar Law – Save Our Summers:

“The Chamber adamantly and vigorously supports maintaining a uniform School Calendar Law in North Carolina,” Brown said.  “In 2012, lawmakers established that the first day of school for public school students will be the Monday closest to August 26.  The summer months are vital to Carteret County’s economy, and the travel and tourism industry generates tax revenues that help fund public education in North Carolina.

“The Chamber Board continues to reaffirm its position to endorse the “Save Our Summers” initiative via an annual Resolution of Support for the Existing School Calendar Law.  This document underscores that the Chamber works in close coordination with the Crystal Coast Tourism Authority to market the Crystal Coast as a family vacation destination and validates that the school start date in North Carolina indeed has a significant economic impact on tourism revenues.

“The Chamber is steadfast in its support for the continuation of the existing School Calendar Law and its uniform start date and vehemently opposes any attempt to change the law, grant unnecessary waivers or otherwise allow public schools to open for students any earlier in August.”

Support for Military Operations:

“The Chamber continues to help build awareness and appreciation for Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, which has an aggregate annual economic impact of $2.1 billion, mostly in the four-county region of Carteret, Craven, Jones and Pamlico counties, and recognizes that Cherry Point is the largest employer of Carteret County citizens and the home of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing,” Brown said. “Additionally, Fleet Readiness Center East is the most productive and cost-effective maintenance and repair facility in the Naval Air Depot system.

“Combined, these Cherry Point installations are a vital part of the U.S. national defense and provide assets, skills and service in support of the Marine Corps warfighters wherever they are deployed around the world.”

Brown said:  “New to the Chamber’s Legislative Agenda this year is reference to the Cherry Point Regional Joint Land Use Study (JLUS), which was initiated by Carteret County to bring together county managers, local planners and elected officials throughout the region to develop recommendations on local ordinances to reflect the future needs of MCAS Cherry Point.”

Among the JLUS objectives are:  Strengthening tall structure and wind turbine regulations, analyzing infrastructure capacity, exploring renewable energy opportunities, analyzing natural buffers and environmental conservation considerations and establishing “military influence planning districts” to coordinate communications with the military installations and to align noise/lighting/disclosure requirements with economic development goals.

“This could have enormous value and help position Cherry Point and its neighboring communities for the next round of BRAC (Base Closure and Realignment Commission) whenever it is authorized by the U.S. Congress,” Brown said.  “We look forward to receiving the complete JLUS report later this spring and offering support as necessary with any recommendations requiring action by the General Assembly.

“To further illustrate the Chamber’s appreciation for the military, we can all celebrate the formal declaration on February 25, which designated Carteret County as an official ‘Coast Guard Community.’  The Chamber was pleased to initiate and complete the application, which required approval of the U.S. Congress and the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard.

“Carteret County is only the second county in the nation to receive this distinction as a ‘Coast Guard Community.’  The county was selected as the appropriate entity to sign the application, because of the presence of Coast Guard facilities at Fort Macon near Atlantic Beach and in Emerald Isle.  The Carteret County Board of Commissioners as well as governing boards of all Bogue Banks municipalities and other towns in the county approved resolutions or letters of support.

“The Chamber greatly appreciates the ‘Certificate of Congratulations’ that was presented to the county and signed by Senator Norman Sanderson and Representative Pat McElraft,” Brown added.

Support for Insurance Reforms/Fair Rate Structure:

The Chamber supports efforts by the General Assembly to reform the homeowners’ insurance rate-setting process used in North Carolina, and specifically to seek a fairer rate structure for homeowners’ insurance in coastal North Carolina.

Brown noted:  “Homeowners in some areas of coastal North Carolina pay the highest base rates in the entire state.  Current base rates are already 4 to 5 times higher than many other areas of North Carolina, and additional rate increases requested by the North Carolina Rate Bureau will only increase this disparity further.”

“Excessive homeowners’ insurance costs place a significant financial burden on family budgets, the tourism industry, the local real estate market and the regional economy,” she said.

“Hence, the Chamber requests that the General Assembly re-examine the rate structure for homeowners’ insurance policies in North Carolina and work to narrow the disparity in costs between coastal areas and inland areas.  The recent pattern of significant rate increases for coastal homeowners is unfair and unreasonable, with current rates that have increased by 75 percent after a significant rate increase in 2005.

“We believe there is no valid correlation between the rate increases imposed on property owners in the coastal counties and actuarial data. Insurance reform needs to be systematic to ensure there is a scientific data collection system and an equitable method of making rate rulings.

“Specifically, the Chamber advocates property insurance rate-making reform via legislation.  In 2013-14, we supported House Bill 519, which sought to “increase the fairness and equity of the property insurance rate-making process by providing for greater transparency regarding the role of catastrophe modeling in property insurance rate filings and by providing that costs of reinsurance included in a property rate filing be properly allocable to North Carolina.”  (The measure passed in the House of Representatives in 2013 by a vote of 116-0, but it did not come to the floor of the Senate for a vote.)

“We suggest strongly that the General Assembly resurrect the intent of this bill,” Brown said.

Next time:  We’ll look at some of the other legislative issues that are important to our members.