LUMBERTON — Local legislators say they are flying blind as the return to Raleigh on Wednesday for state of what is called the General Assembly’s long session, during which a two-year state spending plan will we adopted.
“Compared to past years, I don’t see anything gaining a lot of attention (among legislators) as the session begins,” said Rep. Charles Graham, a Democrat from Lumberton. ‘There’s no major policies or funding issues to be considered as there have been at the beginning of past sessions.”
Graham said that other sessions have started off with legislators jumping right into issues such as tax reform or the need to increase pay for teachers.
“There will be some important issues, but there is not a lot of chatter about them,” Graham said.
Robeson County has a five-member delegation, with the senior member being Rep. Garland Pierce, a Democrat from Wagram. Other members include Rep. Ken Goodman, a Democrat, and Rep. Brenden Jones and Sen. Danny Britt, both Republicans begining their first term.
Democrats in the delegation are looking for Jones and Britt to be strong allies in shepherding through legislation that will benefit Robeson and other rural counties across the state. Republicans have veto-proof majorities in both the House and Senate. Democrats have control of the executive branch with Roy Cooper as governor.
Whether there will be a move at the state level to change the state’s school lease finance law to make it easier for rural counties to fund school construction and undergo consolidation is still uncertain. Proposed legislation that would have provided construction money and perhaps allowed consolidation of Robeson County public schools died last year in the closing hours of the short session.
“I think there will be some legislation to deal with this issue, but I don’t know if it will be in its original form,” Pierce said. “We do need some upgrades and money for school repairs.”
Graham said that he thinks there will be an effort to find money to construct a new central office and make repairs to West Lumberton Elementary School. The central office was essentially destroyed by flooding, and administrators have been working out of an office at COMtech.
Britt said that there might be a revamped part of the previous financing bill, but he isn’t sure if consolidation will be given much consideration by legislators.
“Leasing of schools might be the best for rural areas like ours,” Britt said.
Britt, who defeated Democrat Jane Smith, said that the Republicans in the General Assembly will focus on three major issues, reducing taxes; increasing pay for teachers; and Hurricane Matthew recovery efforts.
Pierce said that he is a strong advocate of all of the county’s state delegation working together to best serve all of the people of Robeson County and similar rural counties
“We’ve got to find a way to work together, no matter which party we belong, to better education and the economy,” Pierce said.
Goodman is interested to see the differences in the budgets put forth by te governor and the General Assembly. He also said that he would be like to see a bond referendum that might provide funding for improvements to Interstate 95, particularly in the stretch that includes Robeson County.
“I would like to see money spent from any transportation bond be be on the southern end of the interstate,” Goodman said.
All of the legislators said that eventually something will have to be done to solve issues surrounding the controversial HB2 legislation. The bill requires that individuals use the bathrooms in many pubic places that correspond to the gender listed on their birth certificate.
Opponents of the bill, which survived a repeal effort in the last minutes of a special called session of the General Assembly late last year, contend that the bill is damaging the state economically by deterring companies, organizations and other entities that oppose discrimination from creating jobs and doing business within the state.
Britt said many questions surround HB2.
“Do we repeal it? Do we revamp it?”
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.