In Raleigh, Charlotte Chamber presses leaders on HB2, transportation funding and teacher pay

Sen. Phil Berger (R), President Pro Tempore of the N.C. Senate, left, and Rep. Tim Moore (R), Speaker of the House hold a joint press conference.
Sen. Phil Berger (R), President Pro Tempore of the N.C. Senate, left, and Rep. Tim Moore (R), Speaker of the House hold a joint press conference.

When the Charlotte Chamber visited legislators to lobby for its agenda Wednesday, the state’s new LGBT law dominated much of the discussion, although chamber members also sought to lobby for more transportation funding and higher teacher pay.

Chamber members traveled to Raleigh on Wednesday for the group’s annual legislative visit, where they connect with lawmakers and discuss priorities for the coming year. Natalie English, the chamber’s senior vice president for public policy, said the controversy over House Bill 2 has pushed other issues out of the spotlight during this year’s short session of the legislature.

“I think this session is being completely overshadowed by the fallout associated with House Bill 2,” said English. “A lot of folks want to talk about it, and need to talk about it, and yet there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.”

The escalating fight over HB2 – which limits local anti-discrimination protections for LGBT individuals and requires transgender people to use the bathroom on their birth certificate – has dominated the state for more than a month. PayPal canceled a planned Charlotte expansion that would have brought 400 new jobs in response to the bill, and performers such as Bruce Springsteen and Demi Lovato have canceled shows in North Carolina.

On Tuesday, the federal government sent Gov. Pat McCrory and the UNC system letters warning that HB2 violates federal anti-discrimination and gender equality rules, potentially putting the state at risk of losing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of federal funding. And the NBA is weighing whether to move the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte if the law stands.

Here’s what English said the Chamber members lobbied for on their three key issues:

▪ Finding a compromise over HB2: Regardless of one’s political stance on HB2, English said the chamber members Wednesday sought to drive a message home to legislators: “We are feeling pain, economic pain, from the result of House Bill 2...The pain we’re feeling is real.”

English said the chamber is asking state legislative leaders to reach a compromise with Charlotte City Council – which passed the expanded nondiscrimination ordinance which triggered HB2.

“We asked them to work with members of City Council to come up with a solution,” said English.

▪ Raising pay for teachers and support staff: English said one of the chamber’s priorities this year is higher pay for teachers, other staff members and faculty at all levels of public education.

“We want to be sure we attract and retain the very best,” said English. She said the chamber has heard from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools that support staff and other employees are being attracted away by higher pay in the private sector and at other public agencies.

McCrory has said he’s pushing to raise average public school teacher pay to $50,000 in North Carolina, and has launched a petition to garner support.

▪ Transportation funding: English said the chamber encouraged members to show legislators support for the controversial Interstate 77 toll lane project, which she said is a faster and more cost-effective way to build needed lanes, and a good tool for managing congestion.

English also said members told legislators they oppose a funding cap for new light rail projects the General Assembly passed last year. That cap could limit new light rail projects in the coming years by eliminating most state funding for such projects.

“We see that as a hindrance to future investments across the state,” said English. “We were weighing in strongly that we don’t think that’s right.”

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo