Politicians, taxpayers must face reality

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 12, 2007

By Rep. Fred Steen

I want to take a minute and talk about my view of North Carolina. We are one of the fastest-growing states in the union. We just moved ahead of New Jersey and we are now ranked by the U.S. Census as the 10th largest state.

Everything I have read only indicates this reality to going to continue well into this first part of this century.

With that said, I want to throw out a few points for discussion.

First, it is time we stop thinking like this is the North Carolina of the past. Folks, that may be obvious to you if you run a business, but I can tell you that there are a whole bunch of politicians who still think this is 1986.

Secondly, we all have to realize that government is going to grow. That’s right. Anyone serving in the North Carolina General Assembly who tells you it needs to get smaller is not living in the new world of North Carolina.

With our new growth, school enrollment is going to increase; therefore, education cost at the local and state level is going to increase. More traffic on our roads means more dollars just for maintenance and repairs. We are not able to keep up with our road demands right now, and cutting Department of Transportation funds will only create bigger problems for the future.

You folks are like me; you run a business. When your customer base is expanding and your demand is increasing, you don’t cut services. So let’s all be realistic and understand that as our state grows, so will our state and local government.

Now, before any of you start thinking Fred Steen is talking like a liberal, let me set the record straight; that will never happen.

As any good business person knows, it is how you manage the growth and control the cost associated with it that ultimately determine your success.

Anyone who just wants to throw money at our schools and our roads without planning and accountability is more of a threat than someone who wants to cut the scope of government.

So, folks, this brings me to the real issue at hand. It is time for our political leadership to stop fooling the people of this state. We need to have a comprehensive plan that looks at where we have been and what is needed to meet current and future needs.

First and foremost, we need to institute a zero-based budgeting process to the state budget. If schools are our No. 1 priority, fund them first. We have the money. Don’t put the top priority last and then tell the voters we have to raise taxes in order to meet the needs of our schools.

Transportation: We need to restructure the equity formula in order to make it more fair and equal. That’s right. Restructure the equity formula. When a politician has to put a name to a program, you can bet it is not what the name tells you. The equity formula is a sham. It is going to be a tough battle, but it is one I am willing to fight.

It is time to put our DOT spending priorities based upon usage and growth. Also, we need to separate out the interstate system from the local road needs. A little local control over where our local roads are built would be nice. Look for some new legislation along those lines this year. Also, we need more proof of identification before issuing drivers licensees.

Reforming healthcare is a major issue for employers and for our state budget. I don’t know the answer to this problem, but I am open to finding a realistic solution. If Massachusetts can do it, so can North Carolina.

We have to control the cost of providing good services while not compromising the quality of care. It is time for everyone to come together on the issue and develop a real solution.

With all of this said, I want to tell you I am looking forward to getting back to work in Raleigh. We have real challenges. For me, part of the challenge in being a member of the minority party. However, I want the folks of Rowan County to know that I fully intend for their voice to be heard, and I intend to put forth an agenda based on doing what’s right for today and plans for the future of a larger North Carolina.

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Fred Steen, a Republican from Landis, represents Rowan County in the N.C. House of Representatives. These are remarks he made Tuesday at the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Breakfast.