Johnston County groups that promote tourism, economic development and health care have goals they hope to accomplish through legislation in Raleigh.
The groups’ leaders held a conference Tuesday to both lay out their objectives and teach the public how to lobby for their causes. About 20 people attended in person at the Smithfield-Selma Chamber of Commerce office, while others took part remotely over the Internet.
The Johnston County Visitors Bureau mostly promotes small businesses, director Donna Bailey-Taylor said. This legislative session, the agency’s main objective would help one Johnston business in particular: Broadslab Distillery.
Broadslab does a good business giving tours of its operation near Benson, but Bailey-Taylor said current North Carolina law forbids the distillery from selling tourists a bottle of its liquor on site. Instead, the distillery gives directions to the nearest ABC store. For the out-of-towners who decide to make that extra trip, many have trouble finding their way.
To change that, the Visitors Bureau supports two parallel bills in the N.C. General Assembly, House Bill 107 and Senate Bill 24, that would allow distilleries to sell people one bottle of liquor per year.
“We just want tourists to be able to get some product and go back and talk about it when they get home,” Bailey-Taylor said. “That’s the kind of word of mouth we need because we can’t afford to buy advertising at the Visitors Bureau.”
To help attract new jobs, Johnston County Economic Development would like to see several changes made in Raleigh, director Chris Johnson said.
The legislature has done a good job of bringing North Carolina’s corporate tax rate in line with other states, Johnson said. But to truly compete, the Tar Heel State needs to make more incentive money available, he said.
Specifically, Johnson said the state should restore funding to and authorize through 2020 the Job Development Investment Grant program; transfer $20 million into a infrastructure-development fund; and create a revolving loan program for economic-development projects.
“You can love or hate (economic incentives), but unfortunately, it’s the name of the game now,” Johnson said.
Restoring tax credits for developers who rehabilitate historic buildings would also benefit the county, Johnson said.
So would modifying the tiered system the state uses to rank how badly communities need grant funding. That system currently lumps areas together by county.
Because of that, the high property values in western Johnston make it hard for the county’s rural communities and poorer towns to win state grant dollars.
To solve that problem, Johnson said, many economic developers would like to see lawmakers break areas into smaller units, perhaps by ZIP code or census tract. That way Smithfield, for instance, would no longer have its fortunes tied to Clayton.
The top item on Johnston Health’s legislative agenda is Medicaid reform, including expanding coverage and increasing the rates at which hospitals are reimbursed, governmental affairs director April Culver said.
Under the present system, Culver said, the government pays Johnston Health for about half the cost of an inpatient Medicaid visit and about 75 percent of outpatient costs. That forces hospitals to hike all prices to make up for the shortfall, she said, and that pushes the burden onto patients with private insurance.
“People who aren’t in health care just find this ludicrous, and it really is,” Culver said. “We charge a lot because we only get paid a portion of what we charge, and so it’s this crazy system that seems very difficult to get out of.”
The hospital also has an interest in the rise of accountable-care organizations, which take responsibility mostly for Medicare patients and then focus on improving their health while cutting costs. As ACOs quickly grow in popularity, Culver said Johnson Health wants to make sure health-care providers, like itself, lead the transition.
Johnston Health’s other goals include making sure the hospital keeps its nonprofit tax status, Culver said. The hospital would also like North Carolina to increase funding for mental health programs, she said, because without help, many of those patients are winding up in emergency rooms.
To give people a chance to try their hands at lobbying, a reception for legislators is scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. May 21 at Broadslab Distillery.