|Democratic state representatives meet the public|
|Published Tuesday, August 6, 2019|
CARY – Barbara Steele has closely followed the politics of what’s happening in her district and what state lawmakers do on Jones Street that affects all districts since she moved from Asheville to Wake County in 2013.
Now, with the N.C. General Assembly stalled in a possible budget impasse, her focus is trained on “priorities in the state budget that are at odds with what our Constitution calls for,” she said, pointing to education funding and GOP-sponsored tax cuts that ease the burden on the wealthiest people and corporations and “shift that burden to everyone else.”
Steele was among 100 people who attended the final of three town-hall-style Listening Tours co-hosted by Wake County Democratic state Reps. Cynthia Ball, D-49; Sydney Batch, D-37; Allison Dahle, D-11; Rosa Gill, D-33; Joe John, D-40; Terence Everitt, D-35; and Julie von Haefen, D-36. The countywide tour, free and open to the public, began in mid-July, and ended August 1 at Beth Meyer Synagogue in North Raleigh.
The Tour was designed in a Q&A format in which residents were invited to ask questions on notecards, and provide some feedback and ideas for the county. The five hosting representatives, which varied among the three sessions, provided answers, discussing state budget negotiations, funding priorities and other legislation impacting Wake County.
The group of lawmakers assured residents they are doing all in their power to end the budget stand-off more than a month after the July 1 start of the new fiscal year, even though House members presented a budget in April and the Senate presented its version in May. In June, the Republican-led state congressional chambers presented a conference budget. On June 28, as he’d promised he would, Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the conference budget, in large part because it did not include a plan for Medicaid expansion that would cover thousands of low-income workers. Republicans have since sought to override the governor’s veto, but, to win, would need to sway more Democrats than is likely.
Meanwhile, Cooper has introduced a compromise budget that includes much of the General Assembly’s own compromise budget, but includes Medicaid expansion, and erases tax cuts to corporations, instead earmarking that money to help schools and teachers. Republican leaders have yet to reply or call for a vote, leaving the onus for delays on them. “We’re dedicated to making this work,” said Dahle, referring to Democratic lawmakers. “We’re dedicated to being there and having the discussions.”
John agreed. “The pressure of a potential vote means all of us feel an obligation to be at the House, despite personal issues,” he said, pointing to lawmakers who work and are healing from health issues, including major surgery. “We are really putting ourselves out there.”
In reply to a question about the outlook of the state’s budget negotiations, Ball said Cooper’s compromise is “good” and has her support. It’s “better in money categories,” she said, noting an increase in state retirement and appropriations for schools.
Ball continued, saying she is opposed to funding for private schools “when our schools are strained,” and believes public school choice is counterproductive to the goals of education. “We are segregating our schools and that concerns me very much,” she said, adding diversity is a strength public schools should represent and lawmakers should ensure with funding. “Integration was the best thing that happened to me. I’m a better person because of integration.”
• Batch, who said she’s introduced 21 bills, many centered on public education and public school funding, pointed to the need to “figure out how to fund” air conditioning in all schools in North Carolina, some of which are forced to close when temperatures rise. Batch also pointed to similar concerns in the state’s prison facilities, noting there’s no air conditioning in the dorms at the state Correctional Institution for Women, and other prisons suffer the same fate. She also shared a sign of success: the inclusion of more forms of identification, including school and military IDs, accepted under the Voter ID law and an increase in reasons for waivers to be granted under the same law.
• Dahle outlined her added focus on advocating for “folks who just don’t seem to have a voice at all,” from youth and others facing sexual orientation and gender identity issues to workers who work six hours without a break.
• John – calling a return to partisan judicial elections “totally incompatible and inconsistent” – said some of his focus is on a bill to return judicial elections back to independent, nonpartisan elections.
• Ball turned attention toward the so-called Duke Energy Bill that would allow rates to be set for years at a time rather than an annual review of proposed increases. “I will oppose that bill,” Ball said, adding she’s received a lot of emails about the bill, but “not one email asking me to vote for that bill.” In answer to a question regarding gentrification, Ball said there must be a pushback against rising rates. “We need to find some way to make housing affordable,” she said. In addition, she said, many issues should be resolved at the local level because it can be tough to equitably implement statewide mandates on local issues because they work in some but not in others.
• Everitt agreed, sharing frustration over “preoccupation in the General Assembly with governing local laws.” “Because we can do something doesn’t mean we should do something,” he said. “It’s frustrating we spend so much time micromanaging local affairs.”
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