Transportation, health, economic development and work-force expansion were the legislative priorities highlighted at the annual Legislative Luncheon for regional state legislators and the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce on April 24 at the Crest Center.
Key items on the legislative agenda were briefly outlined by LaVoy Spooner, chair of the Chamber’s Governmental Affairs Task Force, and included construction of the I-26 Connector in Asheville, $2 million for roadway upgrades in the Wilma Dykeman RiverWay, establishment of a seven-county health-insurance demonstration program, new state-tax structure lowering corporate and personal taxes, equitable funding of education at both K-12 and college levels, a job-investment plan and the expansion of medical-worker training through a regional educational campus.
“One of the most important things we can do is make sure we have a well-supported education system,” responded Rep. Susan Fisher (District 114). “That’s where you’ll see many of my priorities go.” Fisher said she is determined to see education funding remain steady despite “less than bright” budget projections.
According to Rep. Bruce Goforth (District 115), the I-26 project has a current timetable for route selection in 2009, right-of-way purchases beginning in 2011, and a construction start in 2015. Meanwhile, he added, the cost of steel and concrete has seen a 40 percent increase in the last two years.
Looking beyond that local project, Rep. Ray Rapp (District 118) added that the state needs to begin looking at new transportation models and integrating rail back into the transportation system.
Rep. Charles Thomas (District 116) addressed the need to “focus our efforts on smaller change,” advocating a few key, small points to gain ground in such areas as work-force expansion. “There are certain synergies between renewable energy and job creation,” Thomas observed.
“The medical economy is very important,” said Rep. Joe Sam Queen (District 47), pointing out current activities in WNC, including the N.C. Center for Health and Aging in Asheville—a collaborative initiative with UNCA, WCU, A-B Tech and MAHEC that was a product of the 2004 legislative session. “North Carolina’s strategy,” he said, “is to lead in the world of medicine.”
Audience questions followed on such issues as the energy economy, forced annexation, potential financial rebates to promote high-school graduation, and funding for youth-at-risk programs.
The Chamber’s full legislative agenda is available on the Web at www.ashevillechamber.org/economicdevelopment/agenda.asp.