Voters this month elected enough Democrats to break the Republican supermajority in both chambers of the General Assembly. With Republicans still in charge, they have two clear options in how they will govern entering the 2019 legislative session. They can work closely with Democrats to find common ground. Or they can continue to carry out a highly partisan agenda.
I hope my Republican colleagues will pursue the first choice because there are four common-sense areas to find common ground.
First, Republicans can work with Democrats to make government health insurance available to 600,000 low-income North Carolinians. Virginia serves as the best model. Last year, after Democrats almost won back the Virginia House of Delegates, Republicans joined Democrats to expand Medicaid. Many of these Virginia Republicans came from rural districts, who benefited the most from such expansion. According to one study, rural hospitals are 84 percent less likely to shut down in a state that expands Medicaid. Furthermore, the North Carolina Justice Center estimates that more than 13,000 more jobs can be added to 80 rural counties if we expanded Medicaid. Next year, North Carolina should become the thirty-seventh state to expand Medicaid.
Second, Republicans can work with Democrats to raise teacher pay to the national average. This election, both Republicans and Democrats campaigned on raising teacher pay. Teacher pay has been rising, but we’re still ranked 37th and still almost $10,000 below the national average. This session, we should make teacher pay a priority again because our children deserve to be taught by teachers who are paid and respected like professionals.
Third, Republicans can work with Democrats to close the skills gap for workers. To effectively compete in today’s global economy, we must help people with the job skills they need. According to the National Skills Coalition, 50 percent of job openings over the next decade in North Carolina will be middle-skill jobs requiring education or training beyond high school but not a four-year college degree. A good first step would be to pass the North Carolina Skills Gap Study, a bill I sponsored with two Republican senators. This bill directs the North Carolina Works Commission to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the state’s anticipated workforce demand over the next decade and educational programs available for such demand. This kind of data would help make sure that people get the right kind of training and find a job.
Finally, Republicans can work with Democrats to return state government back to our people by establishing a true, part-time and financially accountable General Assembly. Why? Some observers predict that without a Republican supermajority, both parties will engage in prolonged negotiations and the General Assembly will not conclude its business until Halloween, even Christmas. To avoid this dysfunction and the cost of millions of dollars to taxpayers, the General Assembly can pass two bills. First, the legislature should pass a bill I sponsored with Republican Sen. Jerry Tillman to cap the number of days for legislative sessions to 135 days in odd-numbered years and 60 days in even-numbered years. According to the legislative research staff, the General Assembly could have saved almost $17 million with such caps over the past decade. Second, the legislature should pass a bill I sponsored with Republican Sen. Michael Lee called No Budget, No Pay. This bill holds our General Assembly members accountable by the pocketbook in the event we do not a pass a budget on time. If the General Assembly does not pass a budget on time, members do not receive their per diem or travel reimbursement. Both reforms would begin to demonstrate that legislators are willing to hold themselves financially accountable to North Carolinians.
The mid-term election results provide a real chance for the Republican General Assembly members to start fresh. If Republicans elect to do so, they can find common ground with Democrats in the General Assembly. The real winners won’t be either party; it will be the citizens of our state.