RALEIGH — Let the haggling begin in theGeneral Assembly. Lawmakers were sworn in Wednesday to start the long session, and they have a full plate of hot topics.
The big job during this session is going to be creating a budget of roughly $12.5 billion.
The challenge will be how to do it without creating a budget shortfall. Lawmakers from both parties say it can be done if we tighten our belts.
The General Assembly played to a packed house on the first day of the 1999 session.
The 170 lawmakers were sworn into office, and there was a surprise contest for Speaker of theHouse.
Jim BlackofMecklenburg Countywas elected to the post overDan BlueofWake Countyby one vote.
"I don't see this as a major problem. I think we'll move forward and work together. That's what we have to do. We really can't get bogged down with playing games, and I'm not going to," said Black.
This is the first time since 1994 that Democrats control both houses.
"Clearly it's going to be a different group. We'll have to deal as a minority, but we look forward to that. We've been here before. We'll handle it OK as Republicans," said Rep.Leo Daughtry, House Minority Leader.
Republicans and Democrats agree education should come first. Some lawmakers are suggesting a state lottery to fund education. Others suggest cutbacks at state agencies.
"It's going to be a new day inRaleighwhere we have to prioritize, and if we agree education is the number one issue, than we have to fund it like the number one issue," said Sen.Patrick Ballantine,SenateMinority Leader.
After last year's marathon session, lawmakers hope to finish this session by their July 1 deadline.
"I think the people were very tired of us staying until Halloween last year, and I think we need to be committed to getting out in the early summer," said Sen.Roy Cooper, Senate Majority Leader.
There are many hot issues you can contact your local lawmaker about.
First and foremost is the budget, where lawmakers are facing a shortage. It could be time to tinker with taxes.
Some lawmakers will aim to play the lottery this session. They're hoping for approval of a statewide referendum.
Education will be also be a top priority, focusing on teacher pay to keep the best educators in our classrooms.
Lawmakers will also hit the road to address the state's lagging highway construction projects.