06/15/08 — State Senate District 5 Democratic candidates weigh in on current legislative actions

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State Senate District 5 Democratic candidates weigh in on current legislative actions

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on June 15, 2008 2:01 AM


Assistant News Editor

They are not members of the state Legislature yet, but Senate District 5 Democratic candidates Snow Hill Mayor Don Davis and state Board of Education member Kathy Taft said they think the General Assembly is headed in the right direction with this year's $21.3 million budget.

"I think the House came out with a good budget," Ms. Taft said, explaining that she is pleased with what she considers 21st century spending decisions, including recognizing the need to take a closer look at mass transit and at implementing research-based dropout prevention programs actually proven to work.

And, she continued, one change in particular that she was pleased to see the House make to Gov. Mike Easley's proposal was the balancing out of raises between teachers and other state employees.

"I had a major disagreement with the governor trying to give teachers a 7 percent raise and other state employees much lower," Ms. Taft said.

It is, Davis agreed, an area he thinks needs a lot more attention.

"Teachers deserve competitive salaries, but we can't forget about the other state employees," he said.

Likewise, he also said he was pleased to see the Legislature at least taking steps to improve and correct some of the problems in mental health reform.

"It needs a lot of attention," he said.

But neither Davis nor Ms. Taft were sure what the best method would be to pay for those expenditures, and both were reluctant to take a stance on the governor's proposed tax increases on cigarettes and alcohol -- increases that the House has emphatically rejected.

"Nobody likes tax increases, but with the needs, I'm not sure what I would have done there," Ms. Taft said.

"Do I support teachers and mental health? Yes. Do I support general tax increases? No," Davis said.

However, he continued, moderate tax increases, if the need is clearly explained, may be appropriate at times. He's just not sure if this is really one of those times, not "without working through the complete budget."

"I think there are a lot of needs around the state and it's a matter of trying to prioritize those," he said.

The duo also weighed in on other issues important to Wayne County -- saying that they would like to talk to county commissioners about allowing local emergency departments more flexibility in spending 911 surcharge dollars, and that they would support studying the issue of involuntary annexation -- though Ms. Taft admitted that she "didn't know" what the solution should be.

"Taking time to study annexation practices and statutes could benefit concerned citizens, as well as municipalities in the end," Davis said. "I believe there is a need for annexation, but I don't think this action itself -- to study -- implies anything other than a willingness to try and make it the best we can for the state."