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Rowan legislators return to Raleigh with similar priorities in mind

One is new and three are veterans, but all four of Rowan County’s state legislators mentioned similar priorities when asked about potential top issues in the 2015 legislative session.

Members of the N.C. General Assembly were sworn into office Wednesday for the 2015 legislative session. Only one of Rowan County’s legislators — Sen. Tom McInnis, R-25 – was sworn in for a first term. McInnis beat former Democratic senator Gene McLaurin in November’s General Election by 3.3 percentage points.

Rowan’s senators and representatives all mentioned finding a solution for the state’s Medicaid expenses as a top priority. Other top issues included: fixing local transportation problems, improving the quality of rural education, teacher pay and tweaks to the state’s coal ash legislation.

Like his peers, Rep. Carl Ford, R-76, said Medicaid is quickly driving the state budget upward.

“It’s grown astronomically, even just in Rowan.” Ford said.

Because of a significant increase in the cost to the state of North Carolina, Rep. Harry Warren, R-77, stressed the importance of finally figuring out a sustainable solution that would keep costs under control.

“It’s probably going to be the key thing and one of the most important things going into the session,” Warren said.

It’s not officially approved yet, but the state’s recently announced Transportation Improvement Plan could also draw some attention, said Sen. Andrew Brock, R-34. The legislature could tweak the formula that decides which projects are funded, or at least analyze transportation data associated with potential projects more carefully, Brock said

In Brock’s district, projects on Interstate 85 and Interstate 77 were funded, but he and Ford mentioned a noticeable absence from the plan — an I-85 exit onto Old Beatty Ford Road.

“It would be a tremendous project,” Brock said. “An Old Beatty Ford Road interchange means jobs being created in southern Rowan County. It would open up China Grove and Landis.”

He said an I-85 exit would also allow for easier access to Rockwell and Granite Quarry.

For the project to happen, it would need funding, Ford said. The legislature’s local contingency funds are one possibility, but obtaining it could be difficult, he said.

“Rockwell has been trying to get it for 10 years for a project, and it looks like we may finally be close to getting it,” Ford said

One issue in getting funding for transportation projects in southern Rowan, Ford said, is the Department of Transportation’s district boundaries. Division 9 ends at Rowan County’s southern boundary with Cabarrus County. He pointed to the fact that neither China Grove nor Landis have interstate exits and I-85 narrows to two lanes near the southern boundary of Rowan as example’s of the effect of District 9’s lines.

Education, in one form or another, was also mentioned by all Rowan County legislators. For his part, McInnis said he’s focused on boosting the quality of public, rural education.

“My number one concern, first and foremost, is education in rural North Carolina and delivery of education in the 21st Century,” he said. “Rural education is paramount, because without a quality education we won’t have an educated workforce capable of tackling 21st century jobs with a 21st century skill set. A good job will supersede all the welfare programs in the world.”

McInnis, a former member of the school board in Richmond County, said in some cases metropolitan schools receive more resources than school located in the 25th District.

Rowan County’s legislators also mentioned teacher raises as a possibility in the 2015 legislature. North Carolina’s public school teachers received raises in widely varying amounts last year, but Brock mentioned a more substantial raise for all teachers would be a possibility during the 2015 legislative session.

“We’ve got quality teachers and we want them to be rewarded,” Brock said.

Last year, the General Assembly also passed sweeping coal ash legislation, partially spurred by a massive spill on the Dan River. Ford said “there’s room for improvement” in the state’s coal ash management legislation, but said North Carolina deserves credit for its efforts to pass a first-of-its-kind piece of legislation last year.

“We’re the only state in the union with coal ash legislation, and we don’t get enough credit for it,” Ford said.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246

 

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