Chamber’s legislative priorities include transportation, military and tourism interests

The 2016 Legislative Agenda being advanced by the Carteret County Chamber of Commerce contains seven top-tier legislative priorities.

“There has been some rearrangement this year in the Chamber’s top-tier of priorities, as the Board of Directors wanted to strongly advocate for the elimination of the Economic Development Tier System in this legislative session,” said Chamber President Mike Wagoner.

“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,” Wagoner 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,” Wagoner said.

“We are greatly encouraged that the Gallants Channel Bridge construction project on US 70 from Radio Island to Beaufort 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.”

Maintain Uniform School Calendar Law – Save Our Summers:

“The Chamber adamantly and vigorously supports maintaining a uniform School Calendar Law in North Carolina,” Wagoner 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 $2.01 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. 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,” Wagoner 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 goals are strengthening tall structure and wind turbine regulations and to protect Cherry Point and the flight training facilities in Carteret County from encroachment.

“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,’” Wagoner said. “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,’ and the Chamber greatly appreciates the ‘Certificate of Congratulations’ that was presented to the county and signed by Sen. Sanderson and Rep. McElraft.”

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.
Wagoner said: “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,” he said.

“The Chamber believes 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.”

Support for North Carolina’s Community Colleges:

“The Chamber Board was pleased that the Connect NC Public Improvement Bond referendum was approved by North Carolina voters in the March 15 Primary Election,” Wagoner said. 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 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,” Wagoner said. “The Chamber believes the need to invest in the North Carolina’s Community Colleges has never been greater than it is in 2016. “The bond money is for infrastructure improvements. The General Assembly needs to step up and invest in faculty and staff salaries.”

Adequate Funding for Pre-K-Grade 12 Public Education:

“We have great admiration for and appreciation of the Carteret County Public School System for its high performance based on statewide standards,” Wagoner said. “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.

“Continued success, however, is predicated on reasonable levels of funding from the state. 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.”
Other Chamber priorities in the 2016 Legislative Agenda:

Oppose Seismic Blasting and Offshore Oil & Gas Exploration: The Chamber opposes seismic blasting and the exploration and drilling for oil and natural gas off of the North Carolina coast in the Atlantic Ocean, because “these actions would pose a direct threat to the state’s coastal environment.” Wagoner said: “The risk of pollution and other harmful effects to marine mammals, turtles, fish, migratory birds and other aquatic life is far greater than estimated revenues from offshore drilling.”

“The Chamber believes the offshore exploration and drilling have the potential to irrevocably harm and destroy not only the environment but our economic well-being, overall quality of life and the health and safety of residents and visitors,” he said.

“The Chamber suggests this would be a good time for the General Assembly to support the North Carolina communities that have registered opposition of any offshore energy activity, including seismic blasting, which has been scientifically documented as a direct threat to the survival of right whales.”

Maintain/Increase Tourism Funding: With tourism being one of the mainstays of Carteret County’s economy, the Chamber encourages maintaining or increasing state funding to effectively market and promote North Carolina as a diversified vacation destination. “We view travel and tourism funding as a wise and prudent investment in one of the state’s leading industries that will pay dividends in the form of revenue generated by travelers, vacationers and guests visiting North Carolina,” Wagoner said.

Maintain Current Distribution Formula for Sales Tax: The Chamber supports the current sales tax distribution formula used by the state to distribute sales tax revenues among the 100 counties and urges the General Assembly to resist any changes that place a greater emphasis on official “per capita” population estimates. The current formula distributes sales tax 75 percent based on “point of delivery” and 25 percent based on “per capita.”

Oppose Increase in State Taxes: The Chamber believes that North Carolina should create a tax environment that provides a stable, predictable, competitive and equitable tax base. As a rule, the Chamber opposes any legislation that would increase taxes on a statewide basis. In general, the Chamber opposes taxes on services, because many service industries are composed largely of small businesses that contribute payroll taxes and provide thousands of jobs to North Carolinians.

The Chamber did not support the new sales tax law on “Repairs, Maintenance and Installations” on tangible personal property, which became effective March 1, 2016. “This law appears to be fraught with inconsistencies about which services are taxable and which are exempt,” Wagoner said. “It is unfortunate that legislators set themselves up to choose the winners and the losers within the business community.”

Critical Habitat Designations: The Chamber recommends that the North Carolina General Assembly take a more aggressive and proactive stance in opposing federal agencies that seek “management controls” related to endangered and/or threatened species along our coastline, including loggerhead sea turtles, Rufa Red Knot shorebirds, green sea turtles and Atlantic Sturgeon.

Support for Expanding the Oyster/Shellfish Aquaculture Industry: The Chamber supports the implementation of shellfish aquaculture friendly regulations and encourages the General Assembly to approve the expansion of leasing opportunities along the Crystal Coast. “Shellfish aquaculture offers enormous potential within Carteret County,” Wagoner said.

Support for North Carolina’s Ports: The Chamber recognizes that the North Carolina State Ports Authority is a catalyst for economic growth and development throughout the entire state. The deepwater seaports in Morehead City and Wilmington provide jobs, payrolls and tax revenues.

“The Chamber supports adequate funding of the state ports as an investment that will ensure that our ports are able to compete in the global economy and attract and retain business for North Carolina,” Wagoner said.

“The Chamber is an advocate for business growth and expansion at the Port of Morehead City. We support project that are compatible with our tourism and water-based industries, are environmentally friendly and present no risk to human health and safety.”

Support for NCDOT’s Ferry Division: The Chamber recognizes the value of an efficient and modern state-operated ferry system. The North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Ferry Division operates seven routes, all in eastern North Carolina. The ferry system is an important component of the NCDOT and should be adequately funded, in order to maintain a schedule of at least four departures daily from Cedar Island and Ocracoke.

“The ferries are vital to maintaining a vibrant tourism economy in eastern North Carolina, and the Chamber supports efforts to improve and extend marketing and to develop new promotional strategies to raise public awareness and utilization of the ferries,” Wagoner said. “The Chamber urges that ferry tolling be studied on a statewide basis to create an equitable distribution of the financial responsibilities.”

Support Beneficial Transportation Improvements Along the NC 58 Corridor: The Chamber supports efforts by Bogue Banks municipalities and NCDOT to undertake additional transportation improvements to reduce traffic congestion for motorists entering, traversing and leaving Bogue Banks. The Chamber urges the General Assembly to provide adequate funding for these improvements.

Support the Long-Term Development of the Pier at Emerald Isle: The Chamber continues to support the Town of Emerald Isle’s long-term efforts to construct the new ocean fishing pier facility for the benefit of all North Carolinians and the state, regional and local tourism economy. “With the expected continued demise of privately owned fishing piers over time, this project is a critical public access issue for coastal visitors and fishermen,” Wagoner said.