N.C. House speaker shares plans for education, regulatory reform and more
N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, came to Kinston last week as the guest of honor during Mayor B.J. Murphy’s “Merry Christmas with the Mayor 2012” political fundraiser.
He sat down with The Free Press for about 30 minutes before the event to discuss his views on a variety of topics, including Gov.-elect Pat McCrory, the first Republican governor in North Carolina in nearly 20 years; how the GOP “supermajority” in the General Assembly plans to work with Democrats; and the legislative agenda for 2013.
Murphy and freshman Rep.-elect John Bell, R-Wayne — Bell’s district includes Lenoir County — were also present for the interview at the offices of ERA Humphrey Realty Group.
Pat McCrory, the former mayor of Charlotte, is the state’s first Republican governor since Jim Martin, who served from 1985-93.
Tillis said he has known McCrory almost a decade; his time as a town commissioner in the Mecklenburg County town of Cornelius — 2003 to 2005 — overlapped with McCrory’s 1995 to 2009 tenure as mayor.
“He’s been a personal friend of mine for about eight or nine years,” Tillis said. “I’m excited to have a friend in the Governor’s Mansion.”
Tillis called McCrory “a very effective mayor,” and praised the new governor for his efforts to work with Democrats in Charlotte and Raleigh.
“I think that his style is exactly what most people in North Carolina want,” Tillis said.
The Republicans increased the number of seats they hold in the House by nine to 77 of 120, and by one to 32 of 50 seats in the Senate in the wake of this year’s elections.
By holding nearly two-thirds of the seats in both chambers, the GOP has a solid supermajority in Raleigh, enough to override any gubernatorial veto attempt.
Tillis pledged to work with the minority Democrats, and said he recently met with Lenoir County’s other freshman House member, Rep.-elect George Graham, D-Lenoir, among many other legislators.
“The norm is going to be reaching across the aisle, treating the minority party with respect,” Tillis said.
The speaker also said some “extremely talented” new GOP legislators are coming in — including Bell. Many legislators in this year’s class are freshmen or were elected in recent years.
Tillis said the new people “don’t have the muscle memory of the past,” of the days of extreme partisanship between Republicans and Democrats.
Republicans spent a good deal of time working on charter schools during the 2011 long session — including a successful removal of the state’s cap on the number of charter schools — but Tillis said legislators will focus on improving traditional K-12 education next year.
Tillis said he wanted to “empower” teachers and make it easier to do their jobs through less bureaucracy.
He said legislators also want to work on tax reform, such as lowering rates and work to “broaden the base.”
Tillis said a critical piece will be regulatory reform. The Legislature will review all regulations on the books in North Carolina, and give state officials the opportunity to justify the regulations.
Any regulations that cannot be justified would be placed in an omnibus bill and “sunset” in 2014.
“It will be the single most important thing that we can do for job creation and economic development,” the speaker explained.
The ‘shortest long session’
Tillis said Republicans presided over the “shortest long session” in decades during 2011, despite contentious debates over the budget in a harsh economic climate, a proposed voter ID requirement, education, a constitutional marriage amendment, redistricting and more.
The budget became law two weeks before the fiscal year ended on June 30, despite a veto by Gov. Bev Perdue. Budget talks during the 2009 long session – when the legislature and Governor’s Mansion were in Democratic hands, and the economy was crashing – dragged well into the summer before a budget was approved.
Tillis expected similar efficiency in 2013, and explained that passing a budget before the end of the fiscal year is very helpful for municipalities, community colleges, public school districts and other local entities which are on the same July 1-to-June 30 fiscal schedule.
“Having that certainty up front is very helpful,” he said.
Tillis also said being able to wrap up a legislative session in four to five months helps attract younger, working professionals such as Bell to the Legislature when they know they will be away for a shorter period of time and “can have their summer back.”
“There’s no reason we should be there (longer than needed),” Tillis said. “It costs us $50,000 a day every time we’re in session.”
David Andersoncan be reached at 252-559-1077 orDavid.Anderson@Kinston.com. Follow him on Twitter at DavidFreePress.