The 2016 Johnston County legislative update had the air of a retirement party.
No one brought cake or balloons, but the yearly meeting of business leaders and state lawmakers was both a send-off for retiring legislators and a preview of issues likely to come before the General Assembly in its short session.
Business and community leaders heard about gender identity and bathrooms, budget tweaking and the likelihood of tolls on North Carolina interstates.
Late last year, Reps. Leo Daughtry and J.H. Langdon announced they would not seek reelection; together, they have spent more than three decades in the legislature. Joining them at Tuesday’s breakfast was state Sen. Brent Jackson.
State lawmakers convened this past week to reverse an ordinance passed by the Charlotte City Council allowing transgender people to use public restrooms aligned with their gender identity. Johnston’s representatives made it clear where they stood.
Jackson said the special session should be quick as the General Assembly “takes care of a bathroom issue in West Mecklenburg.” Daughtry was more colorful.
“Clearly [Langdon] and I have aged out,” he said. “I always thought you could tell which bathroom to use by looking down – unless you were overweight, then you had to look way down.”
For the April session, the lawmakers said not to expect much beyond budget maneuvering, though Langdon said money should be available to increase pay for teachers and state workers. He also expressed his pleasure with voters saying yes on March 15 to borrowing $2 billion for higher education buildings, parks and infrastructure, while explaining his vote against it on the House floor.
“I voted no on the floor because I thought Johnston Community College should have gotten more money than it did,” Langdon said of JCC’s $3.7 million cut. “[JCC] is probably the biggest jewel we’ve got as a county in the total scheme of things. Industry moves here because we can train a workforce. Students can start here and end up going to a four-year college without so much debt.”
Turning to taxes, the lawmakers noted that North Carolinians are paying more for oil changes and home renovations after a sales tax on services kicked in on March 1. Daughtry said the move was needed to make up for cuts to personal and corporate tax rates.
Lawmakers cut corporate taxes in particular to make North Carolina more appealing to businesses, he said.
“It was important to become competitive with our neighbors,” Daughtry said. “By 2017, we’ll have a 3 percent corporate rate and a 5.499 personal income rate. We’ve seen a substantial drop in rates in order to compete with our neighbors all across the South”
As for taxing oil changes, haircuts and the like, “these services have not been taxed,” Daughtry said, “so we have to spread out our tax base to compensate for the lower tax rates.”
In leaving the General Assembly, Daughtry, who has served as both majority and minority leader of the House, said his best days in Raleigh might have been the most contentious. In those days, he said, lawmakers created their best work.
“It’s always easier when you work together,” Daughtry said. “It’s best when you can compromise on issues which have no answers. Where we don’t always get what we want, but you get something we can all live with, that’s often when you’ve done what’s best for the people of this state.”
Perhaps it’s one of those questions without an answer, or maybe it’s a state painted into a corner, but when asked about toll roads in North Carolina, specifically the patchy Interstate 95, the lawmakers offered realism, not fantasy.
“It’s easy to say you oppose toll roads, but I have concerns about how we’re going to fix what needs to be fixed and how we’re going to pay for that,” Jackson said.
Jackson said toll roads have his support but only if every North Carolina Interstate is tolled on the same day.
“If we’re going to do tolls, we need to do tolls on all interstates at the same time,” Jackson said. “Not I-95 now and then I-77 later. The same time.”
Daughtry put tolls in a different perspective. “As the saying goes, it’s easier to pick the pocket of a Yankee than it is to pick cotton,” he said.
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson