10/16/06 — Kerr will battle challenger for N.C. Senate seat

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Kerr will battle challenger for N.C. Senate seat

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on October 16, 2006 1:45 PM

State Sen. John Kerr will be seeking an eighth term in the state Senate when voters go to the polls Nov 7.

Kerr, a Wayne County Democrat, is facing Republican Todd Siebels of Greenville.

While Siebels is a newcomer to politics, Kerr is one of the longest serving members of the Senate and served for three terms in the state House before that.

Kerr is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and is generally regarded as one of the most powerful legislators in Raleigh. He said that if voters in the 5th District return him to office, he will continue to work for improvements to eastern North Carolina's infrastructure.

The district includes the eastern half of Wayne County, all of Green County and a portion of Pitt County.

Kerr said expanding the infrastructure of the eastern part of the state -- highways, water and sewer lines and other utilities -- is the key to economic success for the region. Improving schools is also vital to securing a secure economic future, he said, because an educated workforce is necessary to the growth of new businesses.

He said despite the passage a few years ago of a $1 billion bond referendum to borrow money for utility expansion, that the state still has at least $10 billion in water and sewer service needs. Much of eastern North Carolina has a high water table, Kerr noted, and sewer systems will be necessary in many areas if large industrial companies are expected to locate in the region.

"We got wiped out in the textiles and clothing industry, so we tried to change our economy and get new industries. We are making a change toward more high-tech businesses," Kerr said.

Kerr defended providing new businesses with incentives to locate in the state, saying North Carolina must compete with other states for companies that create a large number of jobs.

"Some think it's controversial because they think it just brings in new jobs instead of helping our own people," Kerr said. But incentives can help local industries stay in the state and hire more local employees. And bigger and better businesses will be needed to help the state grow, Kerr said.

Kerr said he will continue to be a strong supporter of increased funding for public education. He noted that about half of the legislature's recent $2.4 billion surplus was used for improving education, from kindergarten to the state's universities.

If lawmakers come up with another bond referendum, Kerr said he hopes voters will understand the need to get started on expanding services. Payments would be spread out over a number of years, he said, noting that water and sewer problems are continuing to grow, along with the construction costs.

Kerr pointed to the recent legislative session and the $145 million allocation for construction at Cherry Hospital that he helped shepherd through various committees until is was approved. The money will help create as many as 100 jobs in Wayne County, he said.

Kerr said the project is desperately needed and not only will give the county's economy a boost but provide a response to a proven need. A big part of the state government's role is to help those who cannot help themselves, Kerr said.

"I really believe a country or a state is judged by who they help. If you help those that can't help themselves, then you've given people a hand-up instead of a handout," he said.

Kerr said another issue that he believes deserves attention is overcrowded jails and prisons. To keep the public safe, more and better detention facilities must be built, he said.

Legislators also need to take a look at how Medicaid and Medicare is affecting the state's budget, Kerr said. In the next session, he said, lawmakers need to look at possible ways to relieve counties of some of the costs they incur because of those programs, he said. Many counties are finding it difficult to pay for new schools and other facilities because of the Medicaid and Medicare burden. North Carolina is one of the few states that passes on so much of health-care costs to local governments, he pointed out. Some counties pay more for Medicaid expenses than they do for school buildings, Kerr said.

"It's going to be tough. Washington should do something about it, but they're cutting back so we have to do something about it," he said.

Kerr said he believes his experience in Raleigh makes him the best candidate on the November ballot for the District 5 seat. He said he got into politics to serve his state and hopes that voters will give him a chance to continue to work for them.

"I really think you have to give back and make the world a better place than when you came in," Kerr said.