02/20/07 — Legislators react to State of the State

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Legislators react to State of the State

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on February 20, 2007 1:47 PM

Reactions to Gov. Mike Easley's fourth and final State of the State address Monday night were fairly positive among local legislators this morning.

"I think his ideas were really good," said Rep. Larry Bell, D-Sampson. "I haven't seen the budget to see how he's going to pay for them, but I thought his ideas were good."

Among those ideas was Easley's proposal to expand the Learn and Earn early-college program, which allows high school students to earn their high school diploma and two years of college credit within five years by working with their local community colleges, to all of the state's high schools.

The governor also proposed that the state provide merit grants to students from low- to moderate-income families to help pay for two years of college education, as well as continue efforts to raise teacher pay, lower class size and continue expanding pre-kindergarten programs.

"He talked a lot about education and I was pleased to hear that," Sen. Charlie Albertson, D-Duplin, said. "We've made a lot of progress but we've got to keep doing better to make sure our people can compete in this global economy."

Rep. Russell Tucker, D-Duplin, also found interesting the proposal to eliminate the state income tax for about 600,000 low-income people living in North Carolina, while cutting it in half for another 650,000 or so people just above them.

"I'm all for helping low-income families," he said. "But it scared me with the numbers involved. I don't know how much money is involved in this -- how much revenue we'll lose. It concerns me with the details we don't know yet."

Keeping with that theme of low-income assistance, Easley also presented a program called N.C. Kids Care to provide affordable health insurance to children in families living under 300 percent of the poverty level.

In addition, Rep. Van Braxton, D-Lenoir, also was pleased to hear the governor mention the need for Medicaid reform, as well as the need to expand the judiciary system by hiring more district and assistant district attorneys and clerks of court to help reduce the current backlog of cases.

Albertson also said that Easley's brief mention of the need for energy efficiency and alternative energy was a positive step.

"He talked about energy and I was glad to hear that. We've been working that for several years now," Albertson said, adding that several bills dealing with renewable and alternative fuels have been introduced so far this session. "That's an issue I have a great interest in and I hope we can move forward on it this session."

But they all said they wished the governor's speech had included a little more in terms of specific plans.

"(The speech) didn't have a lot of detail to it and of course you have to be wary of anything until you see the details, but those are all good ideas if the money works out right," Rep. Louis Pate, R-Wayne, said.

They are hoping to see the governor's budget proposal sometime within the next couple of weeks.

"I think he's probably studied it well enough to think it can be done," Bell said. "But I'm anxious to look at the budget he'll be proposing."

Overall, though, Braxton added, with the General Assembly about a month into its session, Easley gave them a good direction to move toward.

"I thought it was a good speech," he said. "I think he showed he's not going to be a lame duck for the next two years. I thought it had substance and that he had some good initiatives.

"It's easy to stand up and make a lot of proposals. The hard part is figuring out how to pay for them, but this is a starting point."