Dear Fellow Citizens,
I hope you all are doing very well. Within my last newsletter I outlined the status of the state budget, the similarities between the House and the Senate proposals, and the path forward for the budget to make its way into law. Since I last wrote you, it did come true that the proposed House changes to the Senate’s budget proposal was not completely accepted by the Senate which resulted in the budget going into the ”conference” process. The two chambers disagreeing on the final product is normal protocol and the conference process is the standard course of action for the budget document to be reconciled within a bicameral legislature (House & Senate). Over the past few weeks the House and Senate budget conferees have been meeting with each other and with their respective caucuses in order to deliver the final conference report on the budget put forth this week.
I am pleased to report that the budget conference report passed its third and final reading today and is now heading to the Governor for approval. If the Governor chooses to veto the final budget then we will move to override the veto in order to deliver a final product for the citizens by the beginning of the fiscal year. Highlights of the final budget agreement include:
- A continuation of fiscal responsibility: when Republicans took control of the legislature in 2011, the state was nearly $2 billion in debt. Since this time, the current Republican majority has paid off that debt, and has moved towards a record $1.8 billion in savings reserve, or “rainy day” monies under the 2017 budget proposal. Resulting in an approximate $4 billion swing from debt to savings.
- A budget that is consistent in principle to previous biennium budgets that have produced revenue surpluses through tax relief and responsible spending. Please note that we have experienced budget surpluses each cycle while the naysayers falsely predicted that reducing the net tax burden for all individuals in our state would produce deficits. Predictions that tax relief would cause budget deficits in North Carolina have proven consistently false since 2011. Instead, the economy has grown, individuals have created jobs, and produced revenue surpluses in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
- A budget that marks the fourth consecutive teacher pay raise in North Carolina (2014-15-16-17) which has resulted in North Carolina has had the fastest rising teacher pay in the nation since 2014.
- A budget that increases funding for public education by nearly $700 million over two years, while fully funding K-12, community college, and public university enrollment growth. The budget also provides an additional $11 million in textbooks and digital resources along with increasing funding for children with disabilities.
- A budget that includes further tax relief for all income levels (99% of taxpayers will either pay less or no state personal income taxes as this proposal is fully realized). While the Republican- led North Carolina General Assembly has already cut billions in taxes for individuals, we continue this trend by tripling the standard deduction (zero-tax bracket) from what it was in 2011 ($6,000 to $20,000). Raising the standard deduction helps those of us who make the least by allowing a larger percentage of our income to remain untaxed while lowering our “effective” tax rates. In fact, under this budget proposal and additional 95,000 North Carolinians will be added to the state’s zero-tax bracket. Allowing more families and job- creating businesses to keep more of their earnings is great news.
- A budget that provides an additional $100 million for disaster relief funding for those of us impacted by events like Hurricane Matthew.
A budget that increases funding for the Strategic Transportation Investments Program (STIP) by $320 million over two years, which will allow 100 new highway projects to be added over a ten-year period.
While serving the 16th District in the State House there have been Republican budgets that I have opposed and budgets that I have supported. This session I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to support the 2017-2018 budget conference report as it continues reducing the net tax burden on the citizen while responsibly funding state government.
Beating a “dead horse” on state transportation related matters
Please find this newsletter as a supplement to previous newsletters and press releases that I have provided to the public outlining our voice to the executive branch concerning our district’s transportation needs. No matter how many times I write about were we are and how far we have come involving our area’s transportation needs, ranging from state related dredging funding to the progress of the Hwy. 17 Hampstead Bypass, I continuously encounter individuals in the public that have missed the “good news”.
Not only did the state legislature hear our voice and act regarding the need for a consistent funding source to dredge our inlets by establishing the Shallow Draft Inlet Fund, our area has also been able to secure full funding for the northern section of the Hwy. 17 Hampstead Bypass in order to move the decade old concept into reality, and to do so ahead of schedule. In regard to the Hampstead Bypass, please note that strong representation from your Pender County Commission and this State House office served as a voice to our state transportation officials when it came to scoring the Bypass project against other state-wide transportation projects in order to make sure we all within the 16th District received a “fair shake” involving the impacts of traffic congestion on safety, tourism, military/freight, and etc.
Along with making sure that our Bypass project received proper input into the statewide scoring formula, it has been a passion of mine to stop the robbery of our gas tax dollars from the Highway Fund (transportation infrastructure) and being diverted into the state’s general fund. As previously outlined, last budget cycle myself and other like-minded lawmakers led an effort to stop the age old robbery of highway fund monies and to allow 100% of our gas tax dollars to go towards transportation infrastructure. Our support of the final budget document was contingent on not robbing from the Highway Fund along with other important budgetary items.
This legislative effort stopped over a quarter of a billion dollars being diverted from transportation infrastructure to general state spending in last year’s budget. Just a few months after this stand was made on the state budget it was announced that the northern portion of the Hwy. 17 Hampstead Bypass project was fully funded and it was one of the last projects to be funded at the statewide level. There is no question that if it was not for the principled stand on the budget it is highly likely that the Hampstead Bypass would still be an unfunded transportation project. This is one of many examples of how standing on principle can lead to prosperity. As a result, please note that not only has the northern portion of the Hampstead Bypass been fully funded due to our efforts on a local and state level, but due to the advanced planning by the DOT Division office, I am pleased to report that the project is four years ahead of schedule.
It is lost on me why this information that I have put out to the public time and time again does not get reported. As a matter of fact, the last report I remember reading in the paper on the Bypass was a few years ago when the project did not get funding and was slated to miss the state’s 10 year plan, but after the fight on the scoring and the funding led to the Bypass finally being funded and on track to an expedited completion date, I have not read a single article outlining this good news. It is unfortunate that most of all we are fed is bad news. Please know that I have, and will continue, to exhaust my outreach efforts so that I can to get the truth of the good news of what our hard work in Raleigh has been able to achieve. To beat the “dead horse” of transportation needs in our district: the Bypass is funded and ahead of schedule…period.
Until next time…
The Cape Fear River & The “Gen-X” Contaminant
According to the reports, Gen-X, a man-made compound produced approximately 100 miles upstream from our area along the Cape Fear River, was detected in a recent study by the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority. Chemours Co., a spinoff of DuPont, has a facility at the Fayetteville Works Industrial complex and it is understood that the Gen-X compound is used in a range of consumer products including Teflon. After being notified of the situation along the Cape Fear River our office immediately reached out to the appropriate executive branch agency charged with protecting the public involving this matter, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). DEQ was immediately responsive to our office and was already in contact with the appropriate entities, including the Federal EPA, to examine the situation and provide a proper course of action. In addition to DEQ, I am pleased to report that Pender County Utilities & the Pender County Board of Commissioners have been actively engaged in the issue and have been extremely active in moving towards outlining the proper path forward instep with DEQ and the EPA.
In terms of the “latest and greatest” concerning the Gen-X issue, and its potential impact on the public drinking water sourced from the Cape Fear River, I highly encourage you to read the recent update from DEQ (below). As you read the information from DEQ please know that our office is actively engaged and ready to provide any legislative action, as the need for such arises, and will remain a voice to the executive branch to be sure that our public health and safety is protected.
(Click here for the original DEQ press release)
Jun 19, 2017
Staff with the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality will sample the water in the Cape Fear River for an unregulated chemical compound known as GenX starting today and continuing Thursday.
DEQ staff will sample at 12 locations this week and will continue collecting samples for analysis in the same locations for the next three weeks. Today, DEQ staff in the Fayetteville regional office are collecting water samples at the Chemours plant that produces GenX during industrial processes, the Bladen Bluff intake and their finished water, and a water supply well in Bladen County.
Thursday, DEQ staff in the Wilmington regional office plan to sample the Lower Cape Fear Water and Sewer Authority’s intake, the International Paper intake, the International Paper finished water, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority’s finished water, the Pender County public utility’s finished water, the Brunswick County public utility’s finished water, the Cape Fear Public Utility’s Aquifer Storage and Recovery well, and the Wrightsville Beach water supply well.
Officials are waiting three days between sampling events since that is the estimated travel time for the Cape Fear to flow the 70 miles from the Chemours plant in Fayetteville to the downstream river intakes near Wilmington. Officials are trying to sample similar water parcels in the two areas for a more consistent and representative analysis.
DEQ staff, in consultation with state Department of Health and Human Services, are investigating the presence of the unregulated compound known as GenX that was detected in the Cape Fear River.
State environmental regulators will collect the water samples and will send those to two laboratories capable of detecting GenX in water at low concentrations.
After meeting with DEQ staff last week, Chemours agreed to bear all costs for the water collection and testing. The state believes the completed results will be back from the laboratory in Colorado within four weeks from when the samples are received. But multiple rounds of testing and analysis will be necessary for a meaningful evaluation of the water quality. Samples also will be sent to the Environmental Protection Agency’s lab in the Research Triangle Park. Officials have not yet determined a timeline for when analysis from the EPA lab would be completed.
To learn more about sampling locations, please contact Jamie Kritzer, communications director for DEQ, at 919-707-8602.