SARAH LOWERY, STAFF WRITER
During Wednesdayâ€™s town hall meeting at the Lincoln Cultural Center, North Carolina Speaker of the House Thom Tillis fielded questions covering a variety of topics, while also addressing a few issues of his own choosing.
Following an introduction by N.C. Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln, Tillis started the talk by specifying his reason for holding town hall sessions across the state, namely to cut â€œthrough the media and bloggers who want to put words in our mouths.â€
He noted that his goal was not to attend a â€œpep rallyâ€ full of familiar faces, but to answer questions from opponents, adding that they should have an equal opportunity to ask questions and get direct answers.
Tillis, a Republican representing Mecklenberg County, also wanted to debunk the common assertion that he and fellow N.C. House of Representatives members canâ€™t get along with their colleages in the senate, instead saying they were â€œvital to our success.â€
He also emphasized the productivity of the recent legislative session, noting that the so-called â€œpartisan gridlockâ€ is contradicted by his track record. Tillis pointed out that Republicans do not have a supermajority in the N.C. House, so overriding a veto, which they have done six times, requires bipartisan support.
He also said he hopes to have an equally productive, and short, session next year.
â€œMy goal is to have the shortest short session there has ever been,â€ Tillis said.
The floor then opened up for questions, with the first centering on whether committee meeting audio or video feed could be immediately posted online for constituents hoping to stay informed.
Tillis answered that he is hoping to improve transparency and access in a few areas and that they are working on a lot of other technological improvements, such as allowing members to participate in meetings remotely via teleconferencing.
He said he would like people to have the opportunity to see and hear deliberations, and by freeing up other funds, they can work on improving in these areas.
Tillis spent quite a bit of his time addressing the education budget following a question on the matter. He said that itâ€™s important to look at the budget â€œas plannedâ€ and â€œas implemented.â€ With K-12 schools having received the smallest cut in funds, Tillis said the goal was for those schools to maintain their current staffing levels, though it is at their discretion.
Furthermore, Tillis said, in planning the budget, they â€œassumed the worst and spent accordingly,â€ rather than waiting until funds dried up to start cutting costs. He also questioned the motivation of those opposing his party, asking whether their goal was to get more teachers and teacher assistants employed or to find success next November.
He maintained that they must help find the school systems that are hurting instead of allowing the focus to turn to special interest groups.
Tillis added that â€œoppressiveâ€ regulation costs education, like business, a lot to run, and he added that some schools that spent less money produced better outcomes.
Lincolnton City Manager Jeff Emory asked about the fate of the N.C. Teaching Fellows Program, with Tillis replying that it â€œneeds to be looked at fiscally.â€ He believes elements of it should continue but also pointed out that elementary teachers â€œcould use that $5 million.â€ Additionally, he suggested private sector funding as a means of financially bolstering state programs.
Tillis concluded the meeting by bringing up a few items of his own, starting with the gas tax, about which he said he would like there to be an intelligent discussion. He asked who would like to see the tax cut, and he then proceeded to ask what road projects they would like delayed as a result.
He also addressed restitution for those affected by the stateâ€™s past eugenics program, in which forced sterilization was conducted on individuals not deemed worthy to reproduce. He said that in being a member of a party that believes in personal property rights, he thinks that should include whatâ€™s inside an individualâ€™s body.
Finally, he brought up the issue of gambling and repealing the stateâ€™s education lottery.
â€œWhat do you do with an industry that wonâ€™t go away?â€ he asked.
He noted that the issue has expanded, but thereâ€™s not likely an end to it in the foreseeable future. Several in attendance voiced their agreement, but one noted that they were probably on the wrong side of that argument.
Tillis said there would likely not be time to take up many of these contentious issues in the next legislative session.