Session recap from the Senate side


Tom McInnis - Contributing Columnist



We have concluded a busy legislative short session here at the General Assembly. As your senator, I felt it was important for me to share with you some of the things we have accomplished during the last two years. There are some great things I believe will benefit our community that are in this year’s budget. I worked hard for Anson, Richmond, Rowan, Scotland and Stanly counties, and I believe that the legislation passed during my time so far as your senator will help grow and strengthen our rural communities. I have consistently voted to strengthen K-12 education, improve community colleges and state universities, and raise teacher pay.

Below, please see some highlights from the past session:

CHANGE ORDERS ON SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS: As a primary sponsor of this bill, I felt strongly after spending time on the Richmond County School Board that it was needed to reduce delays and costs in construction for our local schools. The bill requires procedures to be put in place by local school boards to protect local taxpayers against abuse of change orders in school construction in North Carolina. It will save small and rural schools millions of dollars which can be used for other worthwhile benefits of educating our children.

NORTH CAROLINA FARM ACT OF 2016: This act provides regulatory relief to the agricultural community by providing for various transportation and environmental reforms and by making various other statutory changes. Removing overzealous restrictions and regulations will improve efficiency for farmers.

BUDGET UPDATES

The two-year state budget continues the commitment made by Republican state leaders to dramatically raise teacher pay, cut taxes and promote economic growth in North Carolina. Highlights include:

• Average teacher pay will be boosted above $50,000 for the first time in state history. This will provide North Carolina public school teachers an average $4,700 permanent pay raise over the next three years. When fully implemented, it would mean average teacher salaries are up almost $10,000 – more than 20 percent – under Republican leadership since the 2013-14 school year. This will propel the state to the top of regional rankings. The budget also fully funds teacher assistant positions at the 2014-2015 level.

• I am happy to announce the budget creates a teacher assistant tuition reimbursement pilot program in Anson, Franklin, Moore, Richmond and Scotland counties, which will provide tuition reimbursement of up to $4,500 annually for 25 local TAs to pursue a college degree leading to teacher licensure. This is intended to counteract the teacher shortage in our district, in part due to Tier One status, and the severe need for qualified, homegrown teachers in our classrooms. With the success of this program, I hope it will become a statewide standard.

• The budget offers experienced-based step increases to State Highway Patrol troopers, clerks, teachers, assistant principals, principals, and magistrates, appropriates $16 million to boost pay for correctional officers, and provides a 4.5 percent pay raise to assistant district attorneys, public defenders and other judicial branch workers. This is a much needed raise for our state workers.

•I was an advocate from the beginning to give retirees a 1.5 percent cost of living adjustment, and during budget negotiations retirees were given a 1.6 percent cost of living bonus.

• The budget also gives a 1.5percent permanent pay increase and 0.5 percent one-time bonus for state employees, and merit-based bonuses.

• It establishes an opportunity scholarship grant fund reserve of $34.8 million to award more need-based scholarships to children from working families and provides forward funding to add 20,000 children to the program over the next ten years. This will expand school choice allowing students more options and more access to education.

• The budget guarantees no in-state tuition increases for a standard undergraduate college term (usually 4 years) at all North Carolina public universities, not only providing certainty to families who are budgeting for college costs and taxpayers who heavily subsidize tuition, but also additional incentive to students to complete their degrees on time. It also freezes student fees — often used to fund non-academic expenses — at all North Carolina public universities at current levels and limits future increases. This helps ensure students will graduate with less student debt.

• It provides a community college tuition and registration fee waiver to firefighters, EMS, and rescue and lifesaving personnel, giving more people access to affordable education.

• Finally, it lowers tuition to Elizabeth City State University, University of North Carolina at Pembroke, and Western Carolina University to $1,000 per year for in-state students and $5,000 per year for out-of-state students, ensuring all North Carolinians have an affordable option. This will help attract new students to universities with lower enrollment, make those schools more stable and competitive and stimulate struggling regional economies that sometimes transcend the state’s borders. With UNCP in our own backyard, this is a great opportunity for our area to get an affordable, high-quality college education close to home.

State Sen. Tom McInnis, R-Richmond, is in his first term in the N.C. General Assembly. Reach him at (919) 733-5953 and [email protected]

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Tom McInnis

Contributing Columnist

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