· Increases funding for the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the Tobacco Trust Fund, and the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund.
· Expands support for the aquaculture industry and provides funding for dredging to ensure valuable economic activity at the North Carolina coast can continue.
· Allocates over $750,000 to expand international marketing of North Carolina agricultural products.
· Provides funding for engineers to improve dam safety and review emergency action plans to help prevent catastrophic flooding.
· Sets aside $2.3 million to purchase a new firefighting aircraft in the wake of devastating wildfires in Western North Carolina.
· Provides $250,000 to the Department of Agriculture to continue fighting against federal overreach in the form of the new Waters of the United States definition after the Cooper Administration withdrew from the federal lawsuit challenging this unprecedented land grab.
· Increases funding for the Strategic Transportation Investments Program (STIP) by $320 million over two years, which will allow 100 new highway projects to be added over a ten-year period.
· Includes $241 million to improve structurally deficient bridges across the state, adds $143 million to improve the condition and safety of existing roads, increases contract resurfacing by $20 million, and increases funding for pavement preservation by $30 million, extending the life of thousands of miles of roads.
· Invests $100 million to fund immediate-need construction projects across the state that improve mobility and safety, reduce congestion, and spur economic development.
· Includes $208 million over two years for a Roadside Environmental Fund dedicated to ensuring the safety and beautification of the state’s highways.
· Modernizes the state’s transportation network by providing additional funding to airports across the state for infrastructure improvements, and to the State Ports Authority for infrastructure and dredging needs.
· The rainy day fund grows to $1.838 billion, or 8.2 percent of last year’s budget – the largest dollar amount and percentage in state history.
· $125 million will go to make needed repairs and renovations to state and university facilities.
· North Carolina’s military operations will help to be preserved with $2 million for the next Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC).
· The commitment to improving government transparency continues by funding a website that makes every state agency, county, and local school district budget available for citizens to view online.
· Those who provide our services, our dedicated state employees, will receive a $1,000 across the board wage increase.
· Government operations efficiency is targeted in a fully-consolidated statewide Enterprise Resource Planning system.
· The office of the State Auditor will conduct more specialized audits, and funding is allocated to assist the state Department of Revenue and Department of Insurance in identifying and preventing fraud.
One of the projects of which I am most proud this session was to work to get more District 48 citizens appointed to the various NC Boards and Commissions. For those of us who would like to see the mountain voice amplified in Raleigh, having more representation from our area is yet another method to do so. These important positions are thankless, and they are usually invisible to the people living in our district, but they play important roles in our lives—sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly. The following is a list of seven area residents that deserve our gratitude for their willingness to serve us:
· Henderson County Commissioner Colonel Grady Hawkins was appointed to the NC Judicial Standards Commission effective January 1, 2018.
· Mrs. Marybeth Burns of Henderson County was appointed to the NC Commission for Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse Services effective July 1, 2017.
· Mr. John A. Ross of Henderson County was appointed to the NC Irrigation Contractor’s Licensure Board effective July 1, 2017.
· Ms. Terry Maybin of Henderson County was appointed to the North Carolina Partnership for Children, Inc. effective immediately.
· Mr. Kevin Howell of Transylvania County was appointed to the Outdoor Heritage Advisory Council October 1, 2017.
· Mr. Jim Peterson of Arden was appointed to the UNCA Board of Trustees effective July 1, 2017.
· Transylvania County Commissioner Mike Hawkins was appointed to the Economic Development Partnership for NC effective October 1, 2016
I was shocked, honored, and surprised that the Senate President Pro Tempore, Phil Berger asked me just a few days before the end of session to join an elite 3-member conference committee to represent the Senate to work out the differences with the House on H589—a monumental energy bill. H589 helps us grow alternative forms of energy while saving our citizens about $850 million over the next 45 months.
Without changes required by this bill, our power companies would have been required to continue to purchase previously determined amounts of energy from clean energy sources at rates determined by formulas that resulted in above-market rates.
The issue was raised during our discussions and turned out to be the most contentious one contained in the bill,—that conflicting information exists on the possible interference of wind turbines in the flight paths of training missions conducted at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. While having a keen interest in the advancement of affordable alternative energy sources, we also recognized our responsibility to our US military, the security and safety of our citizens, and the economy of NC to not guess which set of conflicting reports might be correct, but to ensure the right decision is made using only fact-based information. Some tout comments made by military personnel that are forbidden to enjoy free speech rights or to engage in issues that might have political ramifications that flight paths might not be affected by wind turbines reaching 328 feet tall. Others referenced a Joint Land Use Study Report updated earlier this year by the NC Dept. of Commerce and the US Dept. of Defense that recommends the development of a map to address concerns for vertical obstructions.
Recognizing the high risk to the safety of our nation and our military personnel, the need to protect NC’s $66 billion military-related economy and the 577,000 related jobs—we worked tirelessly, once until 2:30 AM to devise a bill that best addressed all the given concerns. The result was to allow 18 months for the completion of the aforementioned Joint Land Use Study Report recommendation. In the meantime, wind energy advocates may proceed with permitting their installations, the lengthiest part of the process.
On the last night of session at about midnight, after thinking we had reached an impasse, we finalized a deal that passed both chambers shortly after 1:00 AM. We are waiting to see if the governor will sign or veto the bill, or lay it aside to automatically go into law.