Last Thursday, our community had the chance to celebrate recent legislative victories and look ahead to our most exciting and challenging opportunities, as legislators gathered from across the region for the Chamber’s annual Legislative Wrap-Up Breakfast at Celine and Company “On Broadway.”
“With the short session just ending, we have things to celebrate as well as issues to anticipate, especially with the upcoming November election,” said Corey Atkins, the Chamber’s Vice President of Public Policy. “The breakfast is a great time to delve into policies that will help share the voice of the business community, and thus strengthen our community as a whole.”
More than 120 community members attended, as each official delivered a five-minute speech and then answered a round of audience questions.
“We really appreciate the commitment and sacrifices you make as officials, traveling across the state to listen to your constituents. It’s important work,” said Cara Truitt, Regional Advocacy Director of Mission Health, speaking on behalf of Mission as presenting sponsor for the event.
The legislators were also appreciative for the business community connection.
“The Chamber legislative agenda has been a guide post that helps educate me on the needs of our business community. Thanks for being such an awesome Chamber,” said Sen. Terry Van Duyn (D-Buncombe).
Other officials in attendance included Sen. Chuck Edwards (R-Henderson), Rep. John Ager (D-115), Rep. Mike Clampitt (R-119), and Rep. Josh Dobson (R-85). Chuck McGrady (R-117) was scheduled to attend but canceled due to Hurricane Florence relief efforts.
Accomplishments of short session
Many officials used their platform to celebrate victories from the short session. Teacher pay increases, a raise in the JDIG incentive cap, and strengthening regional leadership were all widely-celebrated wins.
“People are hungry for a new kind of politics that sets ideology aside and solves important issues. This short session we were able to get a lot done,” Dobson said.
“I’m proud that we increased subsidies for pre-K and childcare…the business community can’t hire and retain a workforce if that care isn’t available.”
Edwards was most excited about the the region’s thriving business climate.
“If we didn’t have a strong economy, that’s all we’d be talking about.” Edwards said. “Our five-county region has the lowest unemployment rate in the state… Our GDP is ahead of the national average, and we’ve generated $962M in revenue surpluses in the past two years.”
Edwards was also pleased to share that the Domestic Violence Task Force bill was ratified, an effort that he sponsored at the specific request of Buncombe County Commissioners.
More work to be done
Other officials concentrated more on the work that still needs to be done.
Clampitt said he wants to continue “pushing the rope up the hill” with establishing more widespread rural broadband access.
With consideration to the ongoing opioid epidemic, Ager would like to see Black Mountain’s state-of-the-art treatment center operating at full-capacity, so that more addicts can find help. He also advocated a reversal of HB2, describing it as a “bad mark on the state.”
Van Duyn also brought attention to the opioid crisis, and expressed frustration with the constitutional amendments that will make an appearance on the November ballot. She and Edwards butted heads considerably on the constitutional amendment for judicial vacancies.
“There was lots we needed to do for WNC but…we didn’t do all we could,” Van Duyn said. “We had an opportunity to bring billions of dollars in to help treat the opioid crisis, instead we spent weeks on gerrymandering politics…We could’ve done a bond issue to support educational structures in rural communities…instead we spent time on constitutional amendments that undermine our legislative process.”
On the horizon
The six constitutional amendments, along with Federal, County, and State office positions, will be on the ballot for the upcoming November election. Early voting begins October 17th and Election Day is November 6th. You can view the sample ballot here. For additional information, see the Buncombe County Election Guide.