12/31/07 — Kerr says there's still work to do

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Kerr says there's still work to do

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on December 31, 2007 1:54 PM

With state Sen. John Kerr set to retire at the end of the upcoming short session, potential replacements are already circling for his seat. But, the 20-year legislative veteran noted, he is not done yet.

"I'm going to be around for another year," he said.

And, with the short session beginning in May, there is still plenty to do.

Locally, making sure the building of the new Cherry Hospital continues to move along on schedule has long been a priority, as has working toward the eventual construction of a regional agricultural center at Cherry Research Farm.

He was able to secure nearly 20 acres of land for the center in this year's budget, but now he said, those efforts need to continue.

"That's certainly on my agenda," Kerr said.

But to him, the major issue facing the state this year and for the foreseeable future is the continuing influx of people and all the consequences accompanying their arrival.

"This state is growing," Kerr, D-Wayne, said. "Wayne County is growing. There are going to be some challenges."

At the top of that list are roads and transportation and how those issues might be financed, whether through tolls, bonds or other funding sources.

"Roads are big problem and unfortunately, the federal government is just impotent. They're not helping us with anything anymore. All that the federal government used to do, the state is now doing," Kerr said. "It's going to be difficult."

In Wayne County, his priorities center around the upcoming Goldsboro U.S. 70 bypass project now that Clayton's is just about done, the need to continue improving U.S. 117 from Goldsboro to U.S. 40, and especially the need to improve U.S. 13 into Greenville.

"I think that really needs to be worked on," he said of the latter project. "We need that to hook us up with Greenville and Greene County."

Of course, he continued, what would really help keep Wayne County's transportation projects on track would be a local representative on the state transportation board -- something he said he is working on, but not a position he's interested in.

"I'd say the one thing Wayne County really needs to do is get someone on the (state) Highway Commission," Kerr said. "It's important that we have that person so we can make sure the transportation needs of Wayne County and the adjoining counties are met.

"We need somebody in Raleigh who will fight for us. But I don't want to do that. It's a full-time job and it's time for me to slow down."

Addressing those road issues, though, should help Wayne County immensely, through economic development and tourism, he said.

"We've got to get people into Wayne County. We are really in the heart of eastern North Carolina. Tourism brings people in who spend money and don't have children in school. It's something that really brings money into the economy."

Water and sewer is another issue that Kerr has long had an interest in, and one that he was able to help find $100 million for in this year's budget for the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center.

But it's also an issue that has continued to grow in importance with this year's drought -- so much so, that a joint legislative study commission is examining how best to deal with current and future shortages. It has not, however, made any proposals yet.

"We're in a heck of a mess," Kerr said. "I think that's going to be a No. 1 issue and a continuous issue. I certainly will be involved in that fight."

Other issues facing the General Assembly in the coming months and years include the need to maintain a responsible state budget, uphold its pledge to take Medicaid off the backs of the counties, keep quality state employees and, of most importance to Wayne County, continue to support Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

And, while Kerr believes the state has been successful at those things in the past, he knows that it hasn't been easy.

"Most of these issues come down to money and nobody like to pay any taxes," he said. "You've just got to work at all of this stuff because none of it just happens."