General Assembly setting 2017 agendas, watching extended gubernatorial election

Budget, redistricting are top priorities, but supermajority will continue reforms as election provides voter approval of policies

Majority leader John Bell (R-Wayne)

RALEIGH — As the race for governor drags on, the Republican supermajority in the General Assembly is looking toward 2017 and setting their agenda for the long legislative session. N.C. House majority leader Rep. John Bell (R-Wayne) reports the process is well underway despite the uncertainty around who will be North Carolina’s next governor.”We started the process on Monday of getting the priorities of the caucus gathered together,” said Bell in an interview. “I actually sat down with my staff and we broke out what priorities the members have listed. We’ll go through that with the members next Monday.”What is certain, according to Bell, is that the General Assembly’s top priorities will be drafting a budget and tackling the issue of redistricting. North Carolina drafts biennial budgets, and the 2017 long session will start a new two-year budget cycle from scratch. Bell says the budget focus will remain fiscal responsibility while also continuing improvements in education, tax reforms and regulatory reforms.As far as redistricting, Bell said they will follow exactly what the courts have prescribed after the Republicans most recent redistricting effort was nullified.”We’ll have to follow the ruling of the court that they laid out, and so we’ll have to go through and make sure that we clearly understand what they laid out for us,” said Bell.The House also plans to have leadership elections before the 2017 session begins, determining who will lead the chamber as Speaker of the House, among other positions.”I feel good about the leadership in its current state,” said Bell. “You know we have some very, very qualified people that have stepped up to run for offices, but you know that’s every member of the caucus’ right to run. I do feel like at the end of the day that Tim Moore will be our speaker and he’ll receive the full support of the caucus moving forward.”That support of leadership is important in shepherding Republican policies through the House, which at times can be difficult even with a supermajority.”With supermajorities it can be harder,” said Bell. “Of course we have 120 very opinionated people, and if they weren’t opinionated then they wouldn’t have run for office. Every district and every part of the state is different, so we all have different ways of getting there, and just because we have a supermajority doesn’t mean that those interests don’t differ.”So we have to find ways to compromise within our own caucus and look at what we feel as a caucus is best for the state moving forward.”Bell thinks the success of Republicans in the recent election gives confirmation of the voters’ satisfaction with policy reforms of the last several years.”You look at what we’ve done with tax policies and business and industry coming back to the state,” said Bell. “Unemployment is down, [N.C. is} ranked the second best place again in the country to do business. These things just didn’t happen overnight and, as you see, the state as a whole is improved. We’ve been given another opportunity to govern for another two years and we’ll continue to work with our congressional delegation to move the state and country forward.”He said the General Assembly’s relationship with the congressional delegation is as good as ever, and they work to make sure North Carolina’s voice is heard on the federal level.”The lines of communication are wide open,” said Bell. “They continue to be supportive, and so all those lines are open and we got a great working relationship and anything we’ve ever needed from a congressional side, we’ve been able to pick the phone up and make a call.”When it comes to the extended race for governor, Bell said they will play their role if it comes to that.”We’ll sit back and watch just like everyone else is doing, and if there comes a time that [the N.C. House] has to participate in the determination of who’s going to be governor, we’ll look at what we’re allowed to do by law and we’ll move forward from there.”