It is good to be home in the district after the long session of the NC legislature. I accomplished many of my goals as a freshman in the NC Senate, which included building good relationships with my colleagues and others in state government. My style has always been to help build consensus and solve problems through working together in a positive manner. Those who have been around Raleigh for years told me as we were winding down the long session that they had never seen a session like this one.
News reports, locally, statewide, and even nationally, have described in great detail the actions and the legislation passed so I will not attempt to comment on specific bills or policies. I will, however, make a general observation about the state budget which I opposed after careful thought and consideration.
There were winners and losers in the state budget and the debate will continue as it is adopted and administered. The bottom line is that budgets are about priorities — whether it is in government, in our businesses, in our churches, non-profits or in our personal lives as citizens. The NC budget just enacted concerns me greatly not because of what it provides but because of what it fails to provide for the citizens of our state. It falls short in providing the education system our young people need to have the right tools for the future, the necessary infrastructure (roads, bridges, water, sewer, etc.) to foster economic growth, a focus on helping our rural communities recover from this recession to create and find jobs, and the health and human services we should provide to those unable to care for themselves.
For years North Carolina has gained a positive reputation throughout the country because we have been forward thinking. This budget is not forward thinking in my view, and takes us down a path to an uncertain future. I want and envision a NC that is bold, committed to education and job creation, and ready to meet the challenges of the future, thus enabling economic prosperity for all of our citizens.
Since returning from Raleigh, I have been visiting every county in the district so I can hear directly from you about the issues on your minds and the concerns you have about state government. Just a few examples of my recent travels include attending Farmer’s Day in China Grove where I saw firsthand the many contributions of those involved in agriculture and farming and the power of a strong sense of community. I visited the Rowan Airport with county leaders and other elected officials to look for ways to partner on making key improvements so that we can draw business and industry to our district. I met with board members, staff, community leaders and international visitors from Japan at a lunch meeting for GHA Autism in Stanly County where we heard about their important work providing services to these individuals with special needs. I enjoyed catching up with friends at the Old Store in Lilesville in Anson County and I’ve met with local government officials and business leaders to thank a Scotland County industry for their expansion and investment in NC. Last but not least, I met with veterans in Richmond County to discuss improving the services they receive and most importantly, to thank them for their service to our great country and for assuring the freedom each of us enjoys.
As I’ve been out in the district, so many educators have expressed their dismay to me about state budget cuts, not paying supplemental funds in the future to teachers with Master’s degrees, eliminating teacher assistant positions in elementary schools, cuts in instructional supplies, the lack of a pay increase, the elimination of the successful Teaching Fellows program, and the funding of private school vouchers. I have a strong belief that if we are going to put children first, we cannot put teachers last. I am afraid some of the budget decisions send the wrong message about the value of an education. My view is this — the key to success in life is hard work and a good education, an education that prepares students for the jobs of the future. Education begins early and never really ends. That is why early childhood programs are such an integral part of our education plan, why K-12 support is crucial, why our community colleges and universities are so critical to workforce development and global competitiveness. If we remove one of these key pieces, then the whole thing falls apart resulting in students who are ill-prepared for the workforce.
On a local level, I encourage everyone to get engaged in town and municipal elections this fall. It matters who you elect to every office. Learn about the candidates, ask them questions, and be informed. Their decisions impact you, your family, and your community.
To those who have taken the time to share your budget and policy concerns with me this session, I conclude by saying thank you. It is an honor to serve as your voice and your state senator. I voted on almost 900 bills this session. With no doubt, you have likely agreed with me on some and disagreed on others. My friend, Wild Bill Corriher, a well-known farmer from Rowan County recently told me, “Senator, I do not expect to always agree with you but I do always expect you to do what you think is right.” Good advice.
While we are out of session, I will be active and involved in visiting your schools and communities to hear directly from you. My Raleigh office will remain open and is staffed by Katie Stanley, my legislative assistant. Please call on Katie or me anytime at Gene.email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 919-733-5953. Please call on us if you need help with an issue that involves a state government agency or service, would like to invite me to an event, or would simply like to share your thoughts on how to improve our great state.