Republican-led legislature passes ‘budget for 21st century’

Editor’s Note: This column was submitted to South Charlotte Weekly prior to Gov. Perdue’s veto of the spending bill. Republicans can still override the governor’s veto.

by N.C. Rep Ruth Samuelson, Special to South Charlotte Weekly

It is often noted – and rightfully so – that throughout its history North Carolina has been blessed with many great government leaders. These praiseworthy men and women were effective in large part because they recognized the critical needs of the state and then worked skillfully through political channels to meet them.

But often it seems – as we shower these skilled public servants with accolades – it is forgotten that it was the people of North Carolina who showed the greatest wisdom and foresight by selecting those leaders.

Last November, voters across the state went to the polls to elect the first Republican-led state legislature in more than a century. The stunning election results, I believe, reflected a desire on the part of citizens to change the way things operate in Raleigh and to create a government that would better meet the needs of our state today.

Earlier this month the state legislature passed by an overwhelming majority a budget aimed at doing just that. In my view, here are significant accomplishments of that budget:

• The $19.6 billion spending plan will bolster our economy and spur job creation. It allows a 1-cent sales tax increase to expire less than four weeks from now, keeping the promise that politicians made in 2009 that it would only be temporary.

As a result, state taxpayers will have $1.3 billion more in their wallets. It also includes a $50,000 tax exemption for small businesses, the backbone of our economy. Overall, economists say these measures could help create 14,000 private sector jobs in the first year and 30,000 over the next two years.

• It takes the first steps toward education reform. Currently, 23 percent of our children leave third grade without adequate reading skills. Yet, only 3 percent are held back. This budget would address the failure of our system in those crucial years by reducing class sizes in first through third grades. The student/teacher ratio would drop to 17-to-1 from 18-to-1, with the addition of 1,100 teachers.

This budget protects every currently filled teaching and teaching-assistant position. And it calls for a performance-pay model for teachers and state employees aimed at helping us find the best ways to retain and reward excellence.

• It shrinks the size of government by cutting more than $1 billion in spending through consolidating functions and reducing waste and inefficiency. During the past 10 years, state spending has doubled. This budget would reduce it by 4 percent.

This is hardly a radical overhaul of our state government, but it is a pro-jobs, pro-education, smaller-government step in the right direction. It better reflects the values of our citizens who continue to strive for better opportunities for themselves and their children, despite our economic hard times.

Last November, the people of North Carolina elected a legislature for the 21st century. Earlier this month, that legislature passed a budget for the 21st century.

In her third term in the N.C. House of Representatives, Ruth Samuelson represents District 104 in south Charlotte and holds the position of majority whip, the third highest leadership role in that body. Email her at Ruth.Samuelson@ncleg.net.

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