RALEIGH — With a portrait of former President Ronald Reagan behind him, Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln) smiled from behind his desk while describing the current session as “managed chaos.”
“You know, it’s the managed chaos that always happens,” Saine told North State Journal in a recent interview. “This one’s probably just been as chaotic as the rest. I think I’ve been around here long enough that nothing quite shocks me. I might be a little surprised, but never really shocked.”
“It seemed like we got off to a really great start as always with a session, but personalities, you know, get tired of each other, they see each other too long, fights start,” Saine said. “Although I will say working through a lot of complicated bills in our caucus, managing the chaos is probably exactly how to describe it because everyone has at least been even when they disagree on very contentious issues (and) have remained friendly.”
He added that in the past his caucus has seen some “real fights,” but not this year.
With several hot-button issue bills like abortion, parental rights and barring transgender athletes from competing in women’s sports on the docket for the legislature this session, Saine zeroed in on the passage of a bill allowing sports betting in the state as one of his priorities.
“It was my No. 1 priority after losing by one vote last session,” said Saine. “And having so many constraints put around that bill and having to wait and delays just getting it done became the No. 1 focus of our office to get that done out of the house as quickly as possible but get it right.”
Saine described his negotiations with various legislators over sports betting, noting he didn’t really court those who were a solid “no” on the issue but instead tried to work with those who might be convinced to vote for the bill.
The Lincoln County legislator also highlighted the revenue side of sports betting.
“You know, we’re losing revenue to other states where sports betting was already happening. It just seemed to me like a kind of a no-brainer to get this done,” Saine said.
First appointed to the legislature in 2011, Saine is currently the senior chair of the House Appropriations Committee.
When asked what the most consequential pieces of legislation might be regardless of the originating chamber, Saine quickly said the budget but also protecting women’s sports.
“I always say the budget just because that’s the biggest thing we do and there’s so much in it,” said Saine. “But I think, you know from coming from a red Republican district, I think dealing with the women sports/transgender issue is top of mind for a lot of voters, and particularly in my area.”
Saine also mentioned addressing Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and that the override of that bill “was a big win,” but that when he heads back to his district he hears from Republicans and Democrats alike who tell him “the world’s lost its mind.”
Investopedia defines ESG as “a set of standards for a company’s behavior used by socially conscious investors to screen potential investments.”
The ESG bill, House Bill 750, which is now law following a successful override in both chambers, prohibits state entities from creating or using ESG criteria or economically targeted investments (ETI) and in state hiring, firing and other employment decisions. The law also requires the state treasurer to only consider pecuniary factors when evaluating an investment or evaluating or exercising any right appurtenant to an investment.
On the topic of legislative items that remained undone or were still up in the air, Saine expressed some frustration with Senate legislation that was holding up the budget.
“You know, there is Senate legislation that none of us have seen but is being talked about that will be generated out of the Senate, but we haven’t seen it yet,” he said. “And quite frankly, that’s kind of holding up the budget now because with our tax reform that the Senate wants to do.”
Saine said he is a “huge fan of tax reform” and “lowering the rate as much as we can,” and added, “if you don’t have a backfill of new revenue that comes in, not higher taxes, but if you’re lowering taxes there’s going to be revenue from somewhere that you’re not capturing.”
Individual bill items like the casino/VOT package, medical marijuana and the finance tax package also made Saine’s list of things he wished were moving faster or having an impact on budget negotiations.
“I think the casino/VOT bill legislation is a huge part of that finance package that we haven’t really got to yet. So we’re at a little bit of an impasse,” said Saine, adding they were “working through it but not as fast as I would like.”
Saine also said he thinks getting the finance tax cut package total is the biggest thing that’s frustrating him right now that the legislature has yet to finish.
“It’s really that finance package — getting through that, getting to the tax cuts that continue to lower that rate because I like seeing us be competitive,” Saine said, noting that other states were looking at and mimicking what North Carolina has done in that area.
Saine said that other states modeling their policies after North Carolina “keeps our eye on the ball and keeps us remaining competitive.”
“I want to stay up there at the top with the top states like Texas and Florida and Utah so that companies want to come here and that families can have a good life here, have opportunity,” added Saine. “That, more than anything, shapes everything we do.
“If we’re not getting that thing right, and that is making sure that we’re in economic power, that we are a driving force and a driving economy and very competitive with those other states,” said Saine. “That if we’re not doing that, then we’re really failing on our job.”
Tax cuts are not the only priority. Saine said continued governing and “tweaks” are just as important to economic growth in the state.
“The real challenge is keeping it running, you know, by seeing the surpluses that we continue to run by a tweak here and there,” he said.
“It’s kind of like having a fine-tuned machine versus breaking everything and starting all over, which I think is kind of where we were in 2013, right? Because we didn’t have a choice. Our predecessors left us in a pretty bad spot, but to that point though, making sure we don’t mess it up is just as important and, quite frankly, even more of a challenge.”
He underscored his point by citing Kansas instituting large tax cuts but then failing to rein in spending and the fact North Carolina lawmakers had done the opposite by using surpluses to bolster the Rainy Day Fund, disaster funds and keeping an eye on inflation.
“We’ve seen the hiccups and road bumps, but I think we’ve managed through those very well,” said Saine. “That, to me, keeps us moving, and I think you get some folks that accomplish personal goals and then they retire, but kind of my personal goal is to keep making sure the government is running the right. So, I’ve got no designs on leaving anytime soon because I still get a lot out of it, and it’s a lot of fun just to see your work happen.”
He went on to take a jab at Gov. Roy Cooper, saying, “I always talk about the governor and (how) he complains about our economic policies, but then he’s always there to cut a ribbon for the next company that’s coming, so we must not be doing too bad.”
Turning back to national politics, North State Journal asked Saine about his recent endorsement along with over a dozen other legislators of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidential bid. He said DeSantis’ proven ability to govern was a big draw.
“What I really like about Ron DeSantis is he’s someone who can govern,” said Saine. “Someone asked me, ‘Why did you do that?’ But, quite frankly, he understands Washington, D.C.
He’s been in there and understands how that works, which I think is incredibly important, but also understands how to govern.
“And I think those two distinctions right there — he understands the game in D.C., but he also understands what it takes to lead,” Saine added. “And you look back to some of my favorites, you know, as presidents — they’ve been governors. Ronald Reagan is hanging right behind me, my favorite of all time, but I think because he had worked with the legislature in California — in a much different time in California — but, you know, working with the legislatures I think gives you a skill set that others who have not done that, it’s quite foreign to them.”