Legislative leaders, Governor address NC Chamber

Gov. Pat McCrory responds to questions on House Bill 2 in an interview May 4. Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready revisited the band's decision to cancel their Raleigh show last month

RALEIGH — Legislative leaders and Gov. Pat McCrory addressed business leaders Wednesday at the North Carolina Chamber’s government affairs convention.

Speakers covered a range of topics, from workforce development and business incentives, to taxes and the state budget.

“You represent the face of North Carolina’s business community, but more importantly you represent what the face of this economy is going to look like now and in the future,” said Senate minority leader Dan Blue (D-Wake).

“A successful, versatile workforce equates to successful and versatile companies. The two always have, and the two still do, go hand in hand,” Blue said.

Blue also told business leaders he believes the state needs to re-establish industry incentives, such as tax credits for renewable energy and the film industry.

The Speaker of the House, Rep. Tim Moore (R-Cleveland), focused his remarks on priorities for the short session.

“[The House and Senate] agreed on a spending budget,” Moore said. “That probably cuts three weeks out of this legislative session, so that’s a great thing because we have a starting point that we’ve already agreed on.”

In 2015, the legislative session lasted months longer than planned as the chambers negotiated a two-year budget. The agreement between the chambers in 2016 represents approximately $22.3 billion in total state spending.

“We’re planning, on the House side, actually having a passed budget by May 20,” Moore said. “We should be out [of session] by the first week of July.”

The propensity for agreement in the legislature is not lost on House minority leader Larry Hall (D-Durham).

“I often shock people when I talk about how often we actually work together and how much we share concerns,” Hall said. “Last session in the House of Representatives we voted unanimously 69 percent of the time.”

Hall also emphasized the business community’s role in workforce development.

“You got to be involved in saying we have to invest in that workforce because that’s the future of your companies,” he said.

Sen. Harry Brown (R-Jacksonville) touched on the importance of continued regulatory reform for business growth.

“We need to hear from you. What rules and regulations do you have to deal with that slow you down in doing business?” Brown said. “When we slow business down, we slow growth down, and we don’t want that. Especially in small small businesses because they don’t have the capacity to deal with it quite as much as maybe some of the larger businesses.”

Brown also said he’d like to move toward pay-for-performance policies for teachers, just like employees are paid and rewarded in the private sector.

“If we can get [teachers] to a good pay schedule in a short time, then let’s reward those teachers for teaching hard-to-find classes such as math and science,” Brown said. “That’s something we’re going to try to address in the Senate. Treat teachers like professionals, just like we treat our employees.”

In an interview at the event, McCrory highlighted what he thinks is needed for a diverse economy, and how to balance tax cuts and public investments.

“The line is when South Carolina is beating you for jobs and their tax rate is much lower than us,” McCrory said. “We had some of the highest taxes in the Southeast. We’re now competitive.

“We’re going to have benchmarks that we have to hit before we reduce the income tax anymore or the corporate tax anymore, and so far we’ve hit those benchmarks.”

However, McCrory doesn’t think income tax rates should be zero.

“I believe in a diverse tax system that can withstand any type of recession,” he said. “I don’t believe we should have a tax system too dependent upon any one tax.”

McCrory also highlighted the importance of infrastructure, saying, “We have to prepare for future growth.”

“We are growing. In fact, even since H.B. 2 has passed, I think we’ve recruited 400 to 1,000 new jobs to North Carolina,” McCrory said, addressing the public fallout from H.B. 2 and concerns of the bill’s economic impact.

The General Assembly reconvenes Monday to continue budget meetings.