There’s a lot of doom and gloom on Jones Street these days. But not among the state’s business leaders, it seems.
The NC Chamber of Commerce held its annual Government Affairs Conference today at the state History Museum, across the street from the legislature. Chamber leaders say they’re excited about the new session, and they have “high expectations” of the new Republican leadership.
NC Chamber governmental affairs VP John McAllister told attendees that the current crop of state lawmakers – R and D – is the most business-friendly in decades. He says the Chamber will push for “long-overdue changes” to laws and regulations that increase the cost of doing business in NC.
Top issues on the Chamber’s agenda include sunsetting the temporary sales and income taxes, easing environmental regulations, reining in state rule-making, reforming worker’s compensation (which hasn’t seen an overhaul in NC since 1994), and reforming tort laws, especially medical malpractice statutes – changes that McAllister said won’t affect the state budget, but will send the message that NC is ready to compete for new jobs.
The crowd also heard from legislative leaders, including House Minority Leader (and former Speaker) Joe Hackney. The Chapel Hill Dem pointed out that NC’s state government employment is 21st lowest in the country, even though we’re the 10th most populous state.
Hackney also praised the state’s “education infrastructure,” warning the group (and the GOP lawmakers in attendance) that it wouldn’t be “prudent” to slash spending on the system that turns out a workforce that helps draw new business to NC.
Hackney was followed by new Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg), who assured the crowd the temporary income and sales taxes would sunset.
Proponents of extending the 1 percent temporary sales tax say the billion dollars it brings in per year would go a long way toward bridging the state’s budget gap. But Tillis isn’t buying it. “People say, well, it’s only a penny. No, it’s not a penny – it’s hundreds of millions of dollars that flow through the economy. It’s that simple. You can’t look at it as only a penny.”
Tillis also confirmed that the GOP would work to reduce state regulations. “Non-value-added regulations are going to be eliminated, and the organizations that have grown to oversee those organizations will be eliminated as well.”
But he warned the group that the cuts to the state would be deep, and that Republicans would be making difficult choices, and he asked for their patience. “Our primary focus is going to be jobs,” Tillis told them. “You can end up with a pretty long honey-do list over 140 years,” he joked, “but we’re not going to get it all done in this session.”
For the newscast version of this story, click here.