Loretta Boniti

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Lawmakers prep for new General Assembly session

RALEIGH — Lawmakers convened last week to get themselves sworn in and organized. It also allows them the opportunity to get new lawmakers some background information on the issues they will be voting on in a few weeks.

“Just to make sure that our folks are up to speed and have the information,” said Rep. Julia Howard, a Davie County Republican and Finance Committee chairwoman, “and look through it for the next two weeks. And have access to the staff to ask questions that they might want to pose to the staff.”

The Finance Committee deals with all things revenue and tax related and legislative leaders have made no secret that those issues are top priorities in 2013.

“Tax reform is critically important,” Senate Pro-Tem Phil Berger said last week. “We have talked for years about how our relative tax rates put us at a competitive disadvantage to our neighbors to really states around the country.”

As the state decides what areas of taxes need to be reformed, members of the state’s fiscal research division updated lawmakers on Tuesday about how North Carolina’s current tax system is currently structured, including the area of income taxes.

“30 states have a lower rate than North Carolina,” said Trina Griffin with the NC Fiscal Research Division. “One state has the same highest tax rate. Eleven states have a higher rate and seven states do not have an income tax at all.”

Finance committees will also immediately be tasked with dealing with the state’s unemployment insurance debt and coming into compliance with last minute tax changes approved by congress.

General Assembly kicks off new session

RALEIGH — The legislative session doesn’t start for a couple of weeks, but the General Assembly was back to work today to get ready.

The General Assembly is back in town for a one-day organizational session and to elect their leaders for the next two years.

There are more than 50 new members in the legislature this year, many of them are Republicans.

The new members have helped to give Republicans a super majority in both chambers for this two-year session.

Leaders point to unemployment insurance debt, group home funding and tax reform as some of their top issues for this year’s session.

Watching on as the lawmakers were sworn into office, is new Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.

It is unusual for a governor to be in the chambers during the start of session, but McCrory said he wants this to be more of the norm during his tenure.

"I did it for two reasons: To show respect for the legislature and also to build a relationship with the legislature," McCrory said, "because this is going to have to be a team effort to fix some of the serious problems in the state and it is a process to do that and this is just the beginning of that process."

The House and Senate will not be back in session until the last week of January. That is when they will start taking up bills and voting on issues.

News 14 Carolina’s Loretta Boniti will be covering the first day of session. Follow her on Twitter for live updates.

Lawmakers looking to pay back unemployment debt

RALEIGH — North Carolina is currently about $2 billion dollars in debt to the federal government for money it borrowed to help pay for unemployment benefits during the recent recession.

The feds have now started a mandated payback program, but the state is looking to accelerate it.

“Under that payment plan, we anticipate that the state would have a positive UI (Unemployment Insurance) balance by the year 2018,” said Cindy Avrette with the N.C. Fiscal Research Division. “But what this legislation does, is it makes changes to our state laws that enables the state to accelerate the repayment of that debt.”

The proposal being sent to the General Assembly would pay down the $2 billion debt by 2015. But the way that money is being found has some folks concerned.

“This proposal, however, largely pulls the North Carolina trust fund out of debt, pretty much on the backs of unemployed workers,” said George Wentworth with the National Employment Law Center.

The draft bill as it is written, it cuts the number of weeks the state pays for unemployment benefits from 26 to 20 weeks, and it also reduces the maximum pay-out for those benefits from $535 to $350.

At the same time, the federal government has raised taxes per employee on employers and as of next year state unemployment taxes would see a small increase as well.

Some lawmakers said they understand the need to get rid of this debt, but also don’t want the unemployed to suffer should another recession hit.

“As certainly as the sun shines in the morning and sets at night, one will come," said Sen. Floyd McKissick. “And we want to make sure when that day does arrive that our unemployed here in North Carolina do receive benefits until they can find that next job.”

All of these proposed changes would only affect people who lose their jobs after July 1.

McCrory addresses problems on first Monday as governor

RALEIGH – Gov. Pat McCrory wasted no time getting down to work as the state’s chief executive.

McCrory took his oath of office Saturday, and less than 48 hours later he has signed his first executive order.

It rescinds an executive order signed by former Gov. Bev Perdue, which created a judicial nominating commission. She ran into problems with the commission not working quickly enough at the end of her term and he said he doesn’t need it.

“My bigger concern is having an executive order that doesn’t work,” says McCrory, “and we saw that it doesn’t work. So I am going to make corrections.”

McCrory also met with his cabinet on his first Monday morning in office. There he was met with a list of concerns about state agencies and government operations.

“The IT systems are broken in almost every department that I have talked to my secretaries," he said.

McCrory points to an audit just completed by the State Auditor’s Office that consolidation goals in the Office of Information Technolgy is not showing positive results and that new systems are set to be in place this summer.

McCrory said he is not sure the systems are ready to go.

“If this new system is not implemented in the way that it was initially designed,” said McCrory, “then we are going to have some major issues in July with our citizens getting services from state government.”

He also expressed concerns about maintenance of state buildings. He said he had to go no further than across the street from the governor’s mansion to find state buildings in disrepair.

“We are getting feedback from employees that they would rather be in leased buildings because they know it is better taken care of than buildings owned by state government. That’s not a good sign," he said.

McCrory noted that budget wise the state is expected to have the slimmest of surpluses at year’s end. so finding the money to fix problems is not going to be easy.

113th Congress: Mike McIntyre, 7th District

WASHINGTON — Senior Political Reporter Loretta Boniti catches up with Rep. Mike McIntyre, as he returns to Congress after a bruising and expensive campaign.

McIntyre returns to Congress after expensive campaign

WASHINGTON — As the new Congress was gaveled into session Thursday, all eyes are on one North Carolina representative.

Seventh District Rep. Mike McIntyre held on to his seat amid newly drawn district lines that favored Republicans, and one of the most expensive congressional campaigns in the country.

For nine-term Congressman Mike McIntyre, getting to the swearing in day for the 113th Congress was a long road.

"It’s really exciting, especially when you consider what we went through with a pretty vicious election cycle," he said. "We know in North Carolina there was some pretty severe redistricting and my district in particular was one of the nationally targeted districts."

McIntyre is, by all accounts, a conservative Democrat — a so-called "Blue Dog Democrat" — the only one left in the state.
 
"It’s not the first time I have been the only blue dog," he said. "Before my friend Heath Shuler was elected from up in the mountains in North Carolina, I was the only blue dog for several years, and now that Heath decided to retire, I am the only blue dog from North Carolina

"But that’s okay by me, because that is the nature of our district and that is the nature of the way you get things done is you find a way to work together," he said.
 
After the once-in-a-decade redistricting took place, McIntyre was left with a district that looked more red than blue and left out some of his base voters in the city of Wilmington.
 
"We are having to shift some of our congressional offices to comply with the new district lines, but that gives us the opportunity to expand the territory and work on some issues that are much broader impact over eastern North Carolina," McIntyre said.

The next election is never far away, though, and the conservative stances McIntyre took during the 2012 election cycle will be remembered by his new constituents.

All eyes will be watching as he casts his votes.

"I’m going to vote based on the issue and I don’t have some secondary motive that someone gave me a pass on a vote or that somebody told me it’s OK to vote one way or the other," he said. "No, Mike McIntyre is going to vote how I feel led to vote and that is affected by how does this impact the people back home."

McIntyre already broke from his Democratic Party ranks this week, casting a "no" vote in the fiscal cliff package when it went before the House and not voting for Nancy Pelosi for House Speaker.

113th Congress: G.K. Butterfield, 1st District

WASHINGTON — First District representative G.K. Butterfield talks with Senior Political Reporter Loretta Boniti as the 113th Congress is sworn into office.

New Congress sworn-in with old work to continue

WASHINGTON—A new Congress has been sworn in, but some old issues remain on the table.

The 112th Congress used their final hours to pass some big legislation; a bill to stop the country from falling off the fiscal cliff. However now the 113th Congress is in place and lawmakers say there is still a lot of work to be done on the budget including cuts, and the debt ceiling debate.

“They just kicked the can down the road. We have a huge fiscal crisis in this country, that makes the fiscal cliff like a joke,” said Rep. Richard Hudson, a Republican from the Eighth District.

Lawmakers are quick to point out that the budget issues are not the only item that will need to be addressed by Congress. North Carolina lawmakers are divided over whether or not Congress needs to take up gun issues following the tragedy last month in Connecticut.

The President has said gun issues need to be addressed. Yet some lawmakers say this is not just about guns.

“I don’t see the Connecticut tragedy, and it was and is a tragedy, I don’t see that it is a firearms issue; except for this issue—how the mentally handicapped or disabled gain access to firearms,” said Rep. Paul Coble, a Republican from the Sixth District.

As states struggle with how to handle immigration issues, it is also an issue that Congress is looking to address. Some lawmakers say it is an important debate to have, but solutions have not been easy to find.

“Well I have been very consistent the eight years that I have been here. I have said that we need immigration reform, but we first have to secure the borders. We can’t do anything until we secure the borders. That is a No. 1 concern. My first year here we appropriated the money to build a fence and to do more there. Unfortunately we have not had the cooperation from the Executive branch to do what needs to be done. But first we have to secure the borders, then we will be able to deal with the other issues related to immigration. We are a nation of immigrants, we want immigrants to come here, we want them to come legally,” said Virginia Foxx, a Republican from the 5th District.

Lawmakers say there will not be much of a break for the new Congress, as work needs to begin right away.

New NC congressional delegation has solid Republican majority

WASHINGTON – This year marked clear change in North Carolina’s representation in Congress.

North Carolina has been a state divided in Washington for the past several years, one Republican, one Democrat serving the state in the Senate, and almost an even split of Democrats and Republicans serving us in the House.

That is no longer the case.

The 113th Congress was called to order Thursday and oaths of office were administered. It was a new day for a new Congress that has a very similar makeup to the Congress that just adjourned.

But North Carolina bucked that trend.

We’ve had Republican majorities in the past, but this is the first time that we have seen such a dramatic shift from a Democratic majority to a strong Republican majority, and it went against the national trend,” said William Peace University Political Science Professor David McLennan.

North Carolina’s congressional delegation had been pretty equal as far as Republican and Democratic representation: Seven Democrats and six Republicans.

But after redistricting in 2010, and a strong conservative movement over the past few years, the split is now nine Republicans and only four Democrats.

“It means that our congressional delegation will have a tilt that goes against the overall politics of the state,” said U.S. Rep. David Price.

But for the new members, all Republicans, they said they are excited to get started on the promises they made during the campaign season.

“It is a steep learning curve,” said U.S. Rep. George Holding. “I have been trying to jump in with both feet and talk to a number of senior members here who have been around for a long time and seek out their advice.”

For those senior members, on the Republican side, they said with nine republicans now sitting in the House for North Carolina, they are hopeful for a united conservative vote.

“With these four new Republicans, it does change a lot of our ability to work together and achieve results here in Washington for the state of North Carolina,” said U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry. 

"In light of redistricting, two Democratic representatives chose not to run for reelection – Heath Schuler and Brad Miller. Larry Kissell ran and lost his seat.

All three seats are now held by Republicans.

NC members of House sworn in on Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON — Thursday was the big day for North Carolina’s 13 members of the House of Representatives. They are now officially sworn-in.

The delegation of seven Republicans and six Democrats includes four new members. Members of the new Congress took at oath of office at noon on Thursday. The ceremony comes one day after the 112th Congress took a significant vote to save the country from going over the fiscal cliff.

However there is still more work to be done on the financial spectrum. The new Congress must begin talks on how to handle the debt ceiling in the coming weeks.

“I know you are feeling a bit awestruck at this moment. History runs through this building. Now you are among a select few to share in this privilege. For those of you who are returning, who have walked these aisles before, maybe it is time we get a little awestruck again,” said Rep. John Boehner.

North Carolina’s delegation has a different look after the swearing-in. Before, there was a 7-6 split with a Democratic majority. Now there are nine Republicans and four Democrats.