The General Assembly has completed its 2017 session, as well as a couple of special sessions, and our region has fared well in funding and new legislation that will help address needs in infrastructure, coastal storm damage reduction, the film industry, teacher pay, the statewide opioid epidemic, water quality and more.
Our corps of area legislators - senators Bill Rabon and Michael Lee, and representatives Ted Davis, Holly Grange, Deb Butler, Frank Iler and Chris Millis - is a capable team that has grown to be one of the most effective delegations in the state, holding several key, high-profile positions.
In particular, Sen. Rabon chairs the Rules and Operations of the Senate Committee and is a member of the Appropriations/Base Budget and Transportation committees, Sen. Lee is co-chair of the Education/Higher Education Committee, and Rep. Davis is vice chair of the House Appropriations Committee. The strong leadership displayed by all our delegation members and their ability to work in conjunction with their peers across the aisle has helped bring focus and attention to our unique coastal needs.
This year’s session was particularly active and included continued reform to corporate and personal taxes. The corporate tax rate will now be 2.5 percent - the lowest of any state - and personal tax rates have been trimmed to 5.25 percent. Those making less than $20,000 annually will pay no personal income tax.
I was especially pleased to see progress on four of the most important items on the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce’s 2017 Public Policy Agenda, released prior to the start of this year’s session.
Those items are listed below followed by more detailed reports on each of the issues:
- Strongly support the State of North Carolina creating a sustainable funding mechanism for beaches and coastal storm damage reduction projects
- Support state and federal efforts on regulatory reform and tax reform
- Support ongoing initiatives to enhance the film industry
- Support significant investment in mental health treatment and coordination, to include adding OP services for behavioral health and substance abuse, as well as funding pilots in communities that have shown an ability and willingness to collaborate.
Our delegation has also responded swiftly to concerns about our water quality. In addition to urging Chemours, the N.C. Division of Environmental Quality, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency to respond regarding the discovery of GenX in our water supply, the delegation has recently appropriated funds to UNC-Wilmington and Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA).
In partnership with Brunswick County Public Utilities and Pender County Utilities, the funds for CFPUA will be used to study the identification and deployment of a water treatment technology to remove GenX from the public water supply and for continued monitoring. UNCW will identify, quantify and measure GenX and the extent it biodegrades, among other things.
One of the most important local issues that attained traction this session was the Shoreline Fund, the aim of which is to eventually establish a recurring method to pay for coastal storm damage reduction, otherwise known as beach renourishment. Local legislative leaders led a push to create a recurring fund, and the result was the Coastal Storm Damage Mitigation Fund. We are optimistic it will be well-funded during the 2018 short session.
In support of our area film industry, the 2017-19 budget includes $33.6 million in 2017-18 for the state’s film grant program, which includes a rollover of $18.6 million in unspent funds, and $31 million in 2018-19.
Perhaps more importantly, for the first time that funding is recurring, meaning there will be no need to lobby for the program’s inclusion each budget cycle. This will help alleviate concerns from film and television series producers about the predictability of the incentives availability. Some members of our legislative delegation continue to make a push to return to the incentive-based program that was successful in attracting television series and large productions like Iron Man 3
to the region.
In an effort to address the growing opioid epidemic, Rep. Davis was a prime sponsor in the creation of a pilot program establishing a quick-response team for heroin overdoses. In addition, the STOP Act was passed, which limits prescriptions of opioids and aims to improve usage of the state’s controlled substances reporting system.
Other positive developments regarding items of regional interest during the long session include:
- A $50 million recurring fund was established to support airports statewide, for which Sen. Rabon was instrumental, and from which the Wilmington International Airport will receive nearly $12 million for capital projects (Cape Fear Regional Jetport in Oak Island will receive $2 million).
- N.C. State Ports Authority’s annual funding was increased from $35 million per year to $45 million.
- $13.5 billion budget for education was approved that allots $9 billion to grades K-12 and includes another round of teacher raises at an average of 3.3 percent statewide.
- The process to enable construction of the portion of the Hampstead bypass from N.C. 210 to north of Topsail High School was started, with kickoff slated for 2020.
- The Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA) “shot clock” provisions were approved in an effort to reduce time delays involved in the TIA process that can prove very costly to
- Regulatory reform efforts that reduce the burden and cost of doing business also passed during this session.
We are grateful for the efforts of our legislative delegation on these and many other issues that impact our businesses and quality of life. Our chamber leadership looks forward to continuing to educate legislators statewide on issues in southeastern N.C. that may not always get the attention they deserve.
We remain your advocate.
The Wilmington Chamber of Commerce is the largest membership-based business association in Southeastern North Carolina. The Chamber’s mission is to ensure economic prosperity throughout our region. This is accomplished by: creating a diverse, inclusive organization that serves as a strong voice for businesses in the Greater Wilmington area; offering unique membership benefits, services and education; and challenging government officials to address long-term community and business interests.