With early voting beginning later this week, Xpress presents an in-depth video interview with Rep. Bruce Goforth, who’s running for a fifth term in one of the primary season’s most-watched races.
Transcript of the full interview, from which this video was abridged:
Mountain Xpress:Representative Goforth, you’ve been in the House for four terms. What’s motivating you to run for a fifth?
Rep. Bruce Goforth: The possibility of being able to help Western North Carolina. If you look at the last three terms, I’ve been a power for the western part of the state. This last year, I was elected majority whip, which I think makes a huge difference. With Senator Martin Nesbitt getting majority leader, I think there’s an opportunity to bring some funding to the west that’s been overlooked in the past.
What are some areas where funding to the West has been overlooked?
One of the key things was the lottery. The 10 percent we didn’t get for school construction in the lottery was huge. We went back and we fought for that, we got $15 million to bring us up, but in the initial impact of the thing, there was about a 10 percent loss on the school construction side.
If you look at the lottery, I think the key thing is that we’ve had over 1,251 scholarships in the last three years out of the lottery money which is right at $3 million. We’ve had 127 new teachers, which is right about $5 million. And school construction, we got a little over $6 million. A total of $16.5 million in the three years. So even though a lot of people don’t like the lottery and it wasn’t my favorite thing. In my district, when you polled it, it was 70 percent wanted the lottery, so I voted for it. Right now I’m thankful that we’re getting $16 million. With the economy where it’s at, that $16 million made a huge difference.
Speaking of some concerns of the Western part of the state, steep slope regulations have been an issue around here for a number of years. You’ve recently proposed some steep-slope legislation. Why is the issue being addressed at the state level now and how will the bill that you’re proposing help to solve the issue?
Well let me clarify one thing. I know my opponent’s said I’ve seen the light. The truth is I’ve been for steep-slope regulations the whole time. I’m a general contractor, I know the need for steep slopes, we’ve got some contractors that clear-cut the whole side of a mountain to build a house and it’s not needed.
But I do not support it coming out of the state level. We don’t need another bureaucracy down there to fund. If you set up a new system down there, it will cost somewhere between $400,000 and $600,000 to set up a bureaucracy down there that our local people can handle. I know Buncombe County’s done a great job with it, Haywood County, Swain County, Watauga, so there’s a lot of emphasis on it. But the truth is: the only difference that I have is where it’s actually controlled from.
I think if you control it out of Raleigh you’re waiting three months to get a priority to get a building permit which will absolutely break the building industry. I am for controlling our slopes, I think we’ve got to protect our people and our property, but I think it needs to be controlled locally.
Do you support changing the state’s involuntary annexation laws? If so, how?
Well I’ve got a bill that passed the North Carolina House that says they [municipalities] have got two years to put the infrastructure in after annexing an area. The huge thing, and the speaker put me in charge of a study committee that looked at annexation. We went across the state looking at annexation. We heard 17 hours of testimony in one year on annexation and what was going on.
We had one city, Fayetteville to be exact, that annexed 40,000 people at one time and it was going to be 15 years before they were getting water and sewer. With my bil that’s in the House, water and sewer is a primary: they’ve got to put it in within two years of they’ve got to refund the people the tax that they increased.
You’ve been a longtime supporter of the Sullivan Acts and you’ve cited the role in the ‘20s and ‘30s Buncombe County helped play in building the water system. How does that tie into justifying restrictions on the city of Asheville’s water system today?
You’ll hear the city of Asheville say that they’re the only ones being treated this way and that’s not true: Charlotte has the same system that we recommended.
When we had the negotiations over the city and the county separating and the city taking it over, we dealt with the city for hours on end in the negotiations. The truth was, they wanted it all and didn’t want to give up anything.
When you look at what the county was paying, they were paying for the ballpark, the city police, they were paying a portion of that. When we looked at [the water system] we said there’s too much money coming out of there and the money’s not going back into the infrastructure. So what we did, in the bill, we put in that the water system has to be utilized for the infrastructure. Last year, we changed that a little bit, to that not just the infrastructure would be addressed, but the area they tore up for paving and the sidewalks could be included in that.
I think it’s fair right now, if you look back in 1933 the city sued three times to double their rates, they were talking initially a 200 percent increase for the folks in the county. Well the folks in the county had that water system in 1933. They had seven and the county had one. If you go back that far and look at that point — and the law says they agreed to no differential rates — so it’s held up in court and I think it’s fair.
You’ve said one of your attributes is your experience and the seniority you have in the House. What specific legislation has that led to that it would be difficult or impossible for a newcomer to the House to bring forward?
I think most of it. When you look at it, I was the second most effective House member this year, passing 20 bills through the North Carolina House and the Senate and the governor signed, that’s huge. I was chair over sexual abuse for children, sex offenders, we got 10 bills passed through there. I’m chair of Insurance, which is one of the largest committees down there. That makes a huge difference in North Carolina.
One of the things I fought in that [Insurance committee] the beach plan insurance. They wanted to put a 10 percent surcharge on everyone across the state for insurance and I’m saying “no way.” Person that owns a $100,000 house in Buncombe County shouldn’t be subsidizing a million-dollar home on the beach. That’s what would have been happening.
So what we did was, the beach plan had $70 billion of liability with a little less than $500,000 in escrow. So we forced them to buy insurance and the insurance companies stepped up for $1 billion, actually it came up to $2.5 billion and the worst storm we ever had was $2 billion, so we felt like we were covered and the Western part of the state will never end up paying that 10 percent surcharge.
What are some reasons, other than experience, that the voters of this district should consider voting for you?
Well, I think the experience is the key. I’m no different from anybody else. I’ve been down there eight years and worked both sides of the aisle to get bills passed. I’m not just on one side. I’ve passed some tough bills, the bills that the Speaker said he didn’t think I could get through, one of them was the bill to the [distribute] the lottery on ADM [average daily membership of students in a district] it got passed by 4-5 votes.
The other bill was the annexation bill, with all the lobbyists down there fighting for municipalities, it was an uphill battle. But I worked both sides of the aisle and got 85 votes and I think when you look at your ratings [seniority]. We’ve got three members [from Buncombe] there, I’m the lowest ranked member in the house — on the good side, I’m ranked 22nd, that’s the best ranking west of I-77. I think that says a lot about what I’ve done and where I am in the House.
The city of Asheville is pursuing domestic partner benefits for its employees. Would you favor a similar step at the state level for state employees?
I’m for everyone having insurance, so that would be my answer to that.
What are the major steps that should be taken to resolve the current budget crunch?
Well, I think we’re doing it. This year, we’re losing $20 million a month in sales tax revenue lower than the projections. That’s huge. We’re going to be somewhere between $300-500 million short this session and we can’t raise taxes anymore. The truth is, when you hear the governor talk about small business, they’re just absolutely being killed with the tax. I think we’re going to have to cut programs. Everyone you see, about 80 percent of our budget is employees, and we got 252,000 people out of work in North Carolina. In 2007 we had $400 million in reserves on unemployment. Today we’re $1.5 billion in debt to the federal government, so that gives you an idea of what 250,000 people out of work would create in a 2-year period.
Speaking of some state jobs, you’ve defended your vote for a one-cent sales tax increase as necessary to keep education jobs from being cut. What cuts in other programs or methods of raising revenue do you support to keep education unscathed in the future?
I don’t have any one that jumps out at me right now. I think you have to look across the board at programs that are working and ones that’s not. I met with the superintendents this morning and I want to see the superintendents make recommendations. Okay, if we’ve got to cut, and I think that cuts are going to be between three and five percent, where do we cut? I want it back at the local level, not in Raleight, making decisions about where the cuts come. Because the local people know where the cuts can come that hurts the least. We don’t need to hurt kids’ education. We end up paying on the backside in prisons. We’re paying $30-35,000 per prisoner a year and I’d much rather be putting that into education.
Parts of your record have been criticized by environmental advocacy groups; the Conservation Council gave you a low rating. You have said before, for example, that we need to be a lot more worried about the economy than the steep slopes. Where is the environment as a legislative priority?
I don’t believe I ever said we need to be more concerned about the economy than the steep slopes. I don’t think I’ve ever said that.
Xpress: At the CIBO debate, sir. [Goforth’s exact statement at the debate was “We need to be more worried — a lot more — about the economy than we do the steep slopes.”]
I said we need to have a balance, that was my words exactly. [Goforth, at the same debate, also said on the environment: “We have to look at where our jobs come from and strike a balance”] I said we need balance, and I still say that. We can’t rob all the jobs to protect the environment. I mean, that’s a no-brainer.
If re-elected, back in Raleigh. Day 1, what’s your top legislative priority?
One thing I’ve committed to do is work on the school calendar to get local control back, that would be the first thing I would go to work on. The second thing, the steep slope legislation for local, I’m working on the bill, I’ve got it pretty much finished, that would allow local control and put a hammer in there for those that don’t want to do it. It would cost the county $5,000 a year if they failed to meet the minimum standards on steep slopes.
What would you say is the main difference between yourself and the challenger, Ms. Keever?
I like Patsy, I’ve supported her in the other issues. But I think it’s a time where you don’t run against an incumbent that has done a good job. If I had ethics problems or some other problem, I think it would be fine. But it’s unusual to run against somebody that’s ranked well, is well respected in Raleigh and is doing the job. I think she’s a very capable lady, but the truth is I don’t think she could be as effective at getting money back to the Western part of the state as I am.
Anything else you’d like to say to the voters of this district?
I think if you look at the money that I’ve worked on and gotten back to Western North Carolina, $22 million VA nursing home, 100-bed nursing home that will employ 150 people. That’s huge. Two years ago, I got the aid center up there that employs 60 people, that’s $3 million. We got $8 million for the Ag Center out there to help with storage. We’ve also worked with the fire service and the volunteer fire departments and fire chiefs in my district have supported me well.
On education, when NCAE supports you over a 25-year teacher, that tells you that I’ve been doing a good job promoting education, though I spent eight years on the Buncombe County Board [of Education]. I think that tells the story, you take an individual that doesn’t have a teaching background versus a 25-year teacher and the NCAE supports you, that tells me that they respect what I’ve been doing.
—David Forbes, senior reporter
Video by Michael Knox and Patrick Kennedy