As the General Assembly got under way, House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, spoke with me about some of the issues the legislature would tackle this year.
You can click on the audio file attached to this post to listen to the 14-minute conversation, but here are the highlights:
On the gas tax: "My guess is it's going to be something that's focused on freezing at whatever rate that it's projected to go down to in July and then freezing it," Tillis said. The gas tax fluctuates every six months based on the wholesale price of gas. Current plans, he said, call for freezing the gas tax for one year and then rewriting the gas tax law as part of a comprehensive tax reform plan the GOP wants to roll out next year. "We have inadequate money going to road projects," Tillis added. "We've got to think about how tolls, gas tax, and other sources of revenue can help us overcome that gap."
Voter ID: Says he's hoping for a new consensus bill that will attract support from Democrats. "I'm guardedly optimistic we can get something out."
Tribal gaming compact: "I think there may be sufficient votes. We haven't done a count. A part of the reason we haven't done a count is we had to be very clear on the scope of it. I'm told that the compact is actually not signed, that it's close to being signed."
On the budget: "Technically speaking, we don't have to pass a budget. That's one thing people need to understand. We could go home and let all the current decisions lie," Tillis said. Asked if he was comfortable with that approach, Tillis added, "There are other ways to get some tweaks to spending done without necessarily passing the budget."
On education funding: House is looking to eliminate a $75 million additional flex cut to education. As well, the House would like to add back funding lost when federal EduJobs money expires. "What we're trying to do is figure out a way to soften the blow. That's what we'll be working on for most of next week."
Fracking: Says differences between House and Senate bills will be minor. Says he favors a bill that doesn't automatically lift the horizontal drilling moratorium because it would give opponents one less reason to fight the bill.