Raleigh, N.C. — One day before the General Assembly returns to work, House Speaker Thom Tillis on Tuesday spelled out his chamber's goals for the 2013 session in one word – reform.
Tillis promised lawmakers would rewrite the state tax code, "move very aggressively" on regulatory reform and work with school superintendents on "meaningful education reform."
While some top Republicans in the state Senate are backing a plan that would eliminate the personal and corporate income tax in favor of a higher sales tax rate that is applied to food and services in addition to other goods purchased, Tillis said he was keeping his options open. The state needs to move cautiously to ensure one complex tax system isn't replaced with another, he said.
"When you move to a consumption-based system, it could potentially be as complex, at the end of the day, as the current system we have," he said.
Tillis has appointed a special committee to identify state regulations that are "out of step with best practices" and set up a plan to repeal them by the summer of 2014. The one-year sunset provisions would give people a year to review each regulation and backers a chance to argue why a particular rule should remain in place.
"We're not just talking about regulations that affect business but that affect all individuals and their interactions with government," he said.
He didn't elaborate on any educational reforms he wants to see, saying only that he's talked with local superintendents who have applied to operate charter schools so they can experiment with different teaching models.
"We need an environment that encourages innovation and promotes flexibility," he said.
Other issues facing the House this year, Tillis said, include approving the two-year state budget, passing legislation requiring voters to present photo identification at the polls and repaying the $2.4 billion owed to the federal government for unemployment benefits paid out during the recession.
The House plans to move "quickly and efficiently" on its agenda, he said, adding that he hopes to pass the budget "in record time" and possibly adjourn by the end of May. The General Assembly has been known to work well into July in years past.
The budget shouldn't be as much as a problem as in 2011 because the state is in much better financial shape now. Also, he said to laughs from fellow lawmakers and reporters, he hopes that the General Assembly won't have to face a budget veto from Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, as they did with Democratic former Gov. Beverly Perdue.
Tillis said he's in favor of overhauling the state unemployment benefits system by July 1, even if that means that some long-term unemployed workers could lose their federal jobless benefits.
Lawmakers have proposed cutting the maximum weekly benefit paid by the state from $535 to $350 and limiting the number of weeks people can receive state benefits. Any changes to the state program this year, however, would end long-term federal benefits under the deal Congress worked out to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff."
"Unemployment was never intended to to this long-term, almost kind of entitlement, program. It was intended to be a bridge to help people as they go back to work," he said, adding that clearing the state's debt to the federal government will help recruit new businesses that won't be on the hook for the unemployment bill.
House Minority Leader Larry Hall said Democrats would work with the Republican majority on "things that make sense," adding that "some of this doesn't add up."
“Saying we need regulation for puppy mills at the same time you’re saying we shouldn’t have regulations on education is an interesting way to posit it,” said Hall, D-Durham.