House Speaker Promises Business Approach to Session
Thom Tillis, speaker of the N.C. House, outlined a practical direction for the coming session of the General Assembly but preached patience Thursday at the Moore County Chamber of Commerce State of the State luncheon.
"I think we're going to have a great year," Tillis said. "I think you're going to see significant results. But it's not going to happen overnight."
Still, Tillis promised a shorter session than two years ago, which broke a 30-year record for brevity.
"That's the tone I've set," he said.
Tillis, a Cornelius Repub-lican whose career prior to politics was as a consultant on corporate efficiencies, spent about 20 minutes talking about tax reform, education reform, unemployment insurance reform, health care reform, regulatory reform and fracking.
"I'm in favor of tax reform," he said. "The largest issues are scope and sequencing. Whether it's all at once or we take a more graduated approach, we have to be very careful."
On Wednesday, Republican lawmakers unveiled a proposal to overhaul the state's tax system, but critics claimed it would shift the tax burden from wealthy households and profitable corporations to low-income people and small businesses.
The proposal would do away with personal and corporate income taxes in favor of higher state sales taxes on currently tax-free services such as medical expenses.
Republicans and Democrats agree the tax system needs to change, but disagree on who should pay for it.
"It's a great concept," Tillis said, "but the devil is in the details."
Tillis said legislators have put together "a baseline bill" to reform unemployment insurance and retire the state's $3 billion debt to the federal government by 2017.
"We're spending $70 million a year just to cover the interest on the debt," Tillis said.
Tillis said regulatory reform "has tremendous potential" for business and urged the crowd to get involved in the process.
"We'll be taking regulations off the books that do not add value but only add cost and complexity to doing business," he said. "We need your feedback on regulations that hurt, not help, your business."
Tillis said one of the keys to education reform is giving the state's 115 superintendents of schools the flexibility to do their jobs as they see fit, then measuring the results.
"If they succeed, they get left alone. If they fail, they lose their jobs," he said. "Don't come to me saying it's all about money. It's about producing results."
State Rep. Jamie Boles, a Republican who represents Moore County, said tax reform, regulatory reform and education reform "are probably going to be the top three" priorities of the legislative session that starts Jan. 30.
"The Republican Caucus is behind the speaker one hundred percent," Boles said. "What we are looking at are common-sense goals that are achievable and will benefit the state."
Caleb Miles, president and CEO of the local Convention & Visitors Bureau, acknowledged that the General Assembly "has a lot on its plate."
"You've got your work cut out for you," Miles told Boles after Tillis' speech.
Chamber President and CEO Patrick Coughlin said it was refreshing for a senior political leader to be straightforward and candid.
"You often just hear the party line and the rhetoric," Coughlin said. "Speaker Tillis did an excellent job of communicating how his legislative priorities will get the economy going. North Carolina needs to create 100,000 jobs a year for the state to see any meaningful growth."
Coughlin said he believes the legislature "has a tremendous amount of responsibility" this year.
"It's almost a no-excuses environment," he said. "What we've done in the past isn't working, so there have to be major changes in the way we run state government, and Speaker Tillis seemed to embrace the challenge."
Tillis, only the second Republican speaker of the House in state history, said he believes in taking a businesslike approach to government.
"At the end of the day, I tell my colleagues we need to think like a business," he said. "We're North Carolina Inc."
Contact Ted M. Natt Jr. at (910) 693-2474 or tnatt@the pilot.com.
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