David Curtis and Jason Saine

State Sen. David Curtis (left) and State Rep. Jason Saine.

North Carolina legislators will return to Raleigh next month for the 2018 short session.

The legislature concluded a busy long session at the end of July after passing the state budget. The session was controversial at times, with the repeal of the “bathroom bill” in March, but productive, according to Republican lawmakers that hold a veto-proof majority in both houses.

Lincoln County state Rep. Jason Saine, who was recognized by the Charlotte Chamber and North Carolina Free Enterprise Foundation for his work in 2017, touted the state’s efforts on tax and regulation reform as the major accomplishments from the most recent session.

“Tax reform and economic development, I think, were the highlights of the session overall,” Saine, a Lincolnton Republican, said. “First and foremost, we’ve been focused on getting our state’s tax climate right so that we can encourage business to invest here. As you look at the tax reform debate nationally and the nice Christmas present from President (Donald) Trump and Congress, a lot of that was inspired by what was happening in the states and, particularly, North Carolina. North Carolina continues to be a state that everyone points to as getting it right as far as tax reform goes.”

State Sen. David Curtis, a Denver Republican whose district includes Lincoln County, was most pleased with the state budget that passed in June despite a veto from Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat. The budget was approved at $23 billion, which is a $500 million increase over the previous spending plan, but $500 million less than Cooper’s proposed budget.

“If you just look at it by the numbers, I would say that a $500 million tax cut, $600 million budget surplus and $700 million increase in education spending demonstrates how successful this year’s session was in a nutshell,” Curtis said. “We imposed a nearly 10 percent teacher pay raise over the next two years as well, which is another big accomplishment that I’m proud of.”

Looking ahead to next year’s session, Saine pinpointed judicial reform as the most significant piece of potential legislation that’s on the horizon. In October, the legislature voted to cancel all North Carolina judicial primary elections in 2018. A number of judicial election reform possibilities, including legislative appointments, will be considered during the 2018 short session.

“We’ve taken a very data-driven approach to reorganizing our judicial districts and I think that’s important,” Saine said. “As a growing state, instead of trying to do it piecemeal or by political leanings one way or the other, we’ve taken the right approach by looking at data where population has shifted and where there are greater needs across the state. This is something that doesn’t necessarily rise to the top of the headlines everyday, but it certainly will impact our state for years to come.”

Saine’s personal priorities for the upcoming session include increased investment in technology, which would help cut costs for citizens and make state data more secure with the recent breaches in Charlotte and other places around the country.

Curtis, on the other hand, has been tabbed to co-chair a committee that has been tasked with taking a closer look at rural healthcare.

“(Rural healthcare) is a real problem in our state,” Curtis said. “The Center for Disease Control says that our rural citizens are dying at a 16 percent higher rate than our urban citizens. We just really need to look at that and figure out some ways to deal with it. We have two North Carolinas. We have the successful, growing urban area where population and tax base is increasing and then we have rural North Carolina that’s at the opposite end of the spectrum. We just can’t seem to get companies out there to create jobs … One of the reasons they’re choosing not to locate there is because of the poor access to healthcare. This urban/rural divide is turning into a big thing for me personally. We need to address this issue because we have not done a very good job so far.”

The North Carolina General Assembly will return to session at noon on Jan. 10.

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