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Expect ëa lot of changesí in state spending

By Karissa Minn
kminn@salisburypost.com
The three state legislators who represent Rowan County know their first year in a Republican majority wonít be smooth sailing.
N.C. Reps. Fred Steen and Harry Warren, along with N.C. Sen. Andrew Brock, focused on the stateís budget and economy at Fridayís legislative breakfast sponsored by the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce.
Brock was the first ó and certainly not the last ó to bring up the stateís projected $3.7 billion shortfall in a $20 billion budget.
ěWeíre going to look at this yearís budget before we really start on next year… just to see if we can make some cost savings now that will pay off in the future,î Brock said. ěBut when we have numbers like that, thereís going to be a lot of changes.î
He said those changes could affect the fields of education and health care, which make up 80 percent of the state budget. They also could come from general government expenses, which only account for 2 percent of the budget, and consolidating government functions.
To help North Carolina recover from the economic recession, Brock said he wants to allow temporary taxes to expire and lower the regulatory and tax burden on businesses.
ěWe can weather this storm,î he said. ěWeíre going to get through it and make some tough choices.î
Steen also said he wants to look at tax reform. He would prefer changing to a system based on a consumption tax instead of an income tax.
ěI believe that if weíre going to really solve the big problem, weíre going to have to empower business, not government, to lead the economic recovery,î Steen said.
He said government growth must be limited to what the private sector can support, and right now it is exceeding that level.
ěWe need to begin the process of restoring sound, sensible solutions to how we govern,î Steen said.
Government is the largest employment sector in North Carolina, he said, and the average income is higher than private employment.
ěI understand that public employees pay taxes just like private sector employees,î Steen said. ěHowever, it is only the private sector employees and business owners who are creating wealth.î
As the newest member of the delegation to Raleigh, Warren will be sworn in on the first day of the 2011 legislative session Wednesday.
He said he wants to help make North Carolina competitive for businesses and residents, balancing lower tax rates with increased revenue from a larger tax base.
ěThis would involve … relieving the tax burden not only on corporations, but on small businesses and working families,î Warren said. ěWe need to be able to put money back into pockets of people so they can go out in the economy and buy the services and goods that will spur the economy.î
Warren said the legislature should look at lowering the corporate gains tax and personal income tax, and the corporate income tax should be reduced or eliminated. In addition, he said regulatory reforms and improvements to the permitting process would help small businesses.
Continuing to work with community colleges to provide training programs could bring down unemployment, he said.
Education and workforce development can help lower unemployment, Warren said, so itís important to continue working with community colleges to provide retraining programs.
After the legislators finished speaking, Burt Brinson, federal and state affairs chairman for the Chamber of Commerce, asked them questions submitted by Chamber members.
All three legislators were asked what they envisioned for the 12th Congressional district, but they largely deferred to Brock, who will be vice chair of the redistricting committee.
ěWeíll be going around the state to get input from citizens all over, because we want to get as many people involved as possible,î Brock said. ěWe will make the districts as fair, legal and compact as possible.î
Warren said District 12ís design ó along with the intent behind it ó is ěan embarrassment to the state.î
When asked if he would be in favor of changing the school calendar law to make it more flexible, Brock said he would if the school year would be kept as short as possible.
ěThat law was set because people were upset that the school year was dragging on,î he said, referring to the stateís limit on the school year between Aug. 25 and June 10.
Questions about school funding and the education lottery also were asked. All of the legislators agreed that the state should stop taking lottery distributions to balance the budget.
Warren said he supports funding the classroom as much as possible, and classroom teachers are vital to providing quality public education.
ěI donít know how many superintendents we need, and I donít know how much they need to get paid,î Warren said. ěI would look at that before even thinking about cutting teachers.î
Brock agreed that the first priority for both K-12 and higher education should be funding the classroom. He said he would look at overhead costs to see what can be trimmed there.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.

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