Local Politics

Election shifts focus of legislative committees

Posted November 9, 2010 4:55 p.m. EST
Updated November 9, 2010 7:00 p.m. EST

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— With Republican lawmakers insisting the General Assembly will focus next year on job creation and reining in state spending, legislative committees that focus on issues from human services to aging are changing their focus.

"It's kind of an awkward time. There's a lot of things we'd like to do, maybe, that there's not going to be money to do," said Rep. Jeff Barnhart, R-Cabarrus.

Barnhart, who likely will become chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, said the new Republican majority in the House and Senate is prepared to make tough, unpopular decisions when it comes to cutting spending.

He cited Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh as an example, noting the state could save money by shifting mental health programs elsewhere.

"The fact is, we need to close Dix," he said. "I do not favor selling the land, but we need to close Dix. We've got some new facilities that were built (to be) more cost-effective."

The state will end most in-patient treatment at Dix by the end of the year, but after years of debate, no date has been set to close the facility.

For many state agency heads, the goal at this point is to educate the new legislative leadership.

"You're not going to make major cuts in health and human services without having an impact on services," Secretary of Health and Human Services Lanier Cansler said.

Cansler, a former Republican lawmaker himself, said the next legislative session could be the most difficult one ever.

Current lawmakers appear to be aware of that potential.

"How we approach (issues) could be different," said Sen. Richard Stevens, R-Wake. "We came with a different platform of a trimmer government and not increasing taxes."

"I think we're going to see a change in the way things are done, but I'll also say the problem wasn't created overnight, (so) it won't get fixed overnight," Barnhart said.