More on Chamber’s 2016 legislative priorities

Part 2 of a 4 part series

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 Assemblyconvenes 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.

Education funding completes the top-tier of the Chamber’s 2016 Legislative Agenda.

Support for North Carolina’s Community Colleges

The Chamber Board is pleased that the Connect NC Public Improvement Bond referendum was approvedby North Carolina voters in the March 15 Primary Election.  From the $2 billion bond package, the North Carolina Community College System will receive $350 million.

Each of the 58 colleges in the system gets a piece of the pie, and as previously reported, Carteret Community College is scheduled to receive about $2.67 million to apply toward construction of a new hospitality and culinary arts facility on campus.

“North Carolina’s Community Colleges form the backbone of workforce development in the state by aligning instruction with workforce needs, and providing students with affordable educational opportunities,” said Mary Carlyle Brown, who heads the Chamber’s Public & Government Affairs Committee.

“The Chamber believes the need to invest in the North Carolina’s Community Colleges has never been greater than it is in 2016.  Over the past few years, funding for core operations of our Community Colleges has been stretched to the point that faculty pay now ranks 15 out of 16 states in the southeast region, trailing regional averages by 15 percent.

“In short, North Carolina Community Colleges cannot be the best when average faculty salaries are near the worst,” Brown said.

“The bond money is for infrastructure improvements.  The General Assembly needs to step up and invest in faculty and staff salaries.

“Additionally, the state needs to provide the financial support necessary for information technology improvements and the acquisition of updated technical equipment to support science, math, engineering and technology courses, including the health sciences, which are so important to Carteret County.”

Adequate Funding for Pre-K-Grade 12 Public Education

The Chamber supports the Carteret County Public School System where “students learn, grow and become.”

Brown said:  “We admire the local school system for its high performance based on statewide standards. Certainly, it is the premier school district in eastern North Carolina.  Efforts to graduate all students to be productive citizens are commendable, as the Carteret County Schools have dramatically improved graduation rates in recent years.”

“However, continued success is predicated on reasonable levels of funding from the state.  We oppose unfunded mandates that would shift more of the financial burden for school funding and bus transportation to the counties.

“First and foremost, all public school employees need to be fairly compensated.  Without a fair and competitive salary schedule, Carteret County will be unable to attract or retain quality staff members, like those who have tirelessly and with great dedication developed an outstanding county public school system.

Great schools attract quality businesses as well as high-performing professionals and employees.  Great schools provide vital infrastructure for outstanding communities.  Therefore, the Chamber supports a compensation system that is competitive with other states and rewards employees who are outstanding performers.

“We support restoring Education Lottery funding to the statutorily required level of 40 percent of net proceeds to be used for school construction,” Brown said.

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