Lawmakers: Business owners, not politicians, will solve problems
By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — State legislators touted their records and said they would rely on the business community for common-sense solutions as the budget crunch continues in Raleigh.
N.C. Sen. Andrew Brock, Rep. Fred Steen and Rep. Harry Warren spoke Friday at the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce’s annual legislative breakfast at the Holiday Inn. Tim Norris, chairman of the Chamber’s Federal and State Affairs Committee, served as moderator.
“The problems out there are not going to be solved by a politician or bureaucrat,” said Brock, who is running unopposed for re-election. “It’s going to be solved by you, the businessman.”
They said the Republican-controlled legislature closed a $2.7 billion budget gap, let tax increases expire and worked at close to a “breakneck pace” last fall, according to Brock.
The budget shortfall made their jobs difficult, and across-the-board cuts were challenging to implement, said Steen, one of seven candidates vying for the 8th U.S. House District. While cutting costs, legislators worked to add teachers and reduce classroom sizes, he said.
They also made North Carolina more business-friendly by holding N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue to her word and sunsetting the sales tax, turning more than $1.3 billion back to the private sector, Steen said.
Tort reform and changes to workers compensation laws also topped the lists of accomplishments.
Steen said the state house adopted a new practice of bringing stakeholders to Raleigh “to get everything on the table” before passing new laws, Steen said.
“We try to understand what’s really at stake when you make legislative changes,” he said.
Warren reminded business owners in the audience of new income-related tax exemptions they may qualify for and said the legislature passed more than 20 bills related to education, including removing the cap from charter schools and offering a tax credit for students with disabilities.
Legislators removed some testing and reduced paperwork for teachers, said Warren, who is running for re-election to the 77th N.C. House District against Bill Battermann, a Democrat.
But the state needs to do more to prevent unemployment benefit fraud, Warren said. It’s too easy to apply for unemployment in North Carolina, where people can fill out an application over the phone or online, he said.
The state is not enforcing the twice-a-week job search for those receiving unemployment checks, Warren said.
“There is a lot to correct in the way we apply for and dispense unemployment,” he said.
Brock said abuse has run the state’s unemployment benefits system “into the ground.”
Warren supported the exploration of new energy sources, including reviewing the feasibility of offshore drilling and hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, to release natural gas.
Steen advocated zero-based budgeting, where every department starts from zero and must justify each line item in the budget.
Restructuring the tax code could mean some people who have never been taxed before might have to pay, he said.
“But the overall tax burden will be less for businesses and individuals,” he said.
Steen said the General Assembly needs to budget based on local priorities, not those imposed by Washington like high-speed rail.
“No one here was asking for it,” he said.
North Carolina must update its noncompetitive auto insurance industry, Steen said.
“Safe drivers should not be subsidizing the guys who are high risk,” he said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.