On the agenda

Back in February, the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors approved a five-page document setting out the Chamber’s 2003 legislative agenda. During the April 10-12 Legislative Weekend, Chamber staffers used their time with legislators to emphasize these points, according to Chamber President/CEO Richard Lutovsky.

Here are some of the actions the Chamber wants the N.C. General Assembly to take:

• Amend North Carolina’s constitution to allow for “economic project development financing,” a.k.a. “tax-increment financing.” Leaders in Charlotte and other N.C. cities are seeking a state referendum on allowing the financing, which would permit local governments to sell bonds based on the projected future growth in property values in designated districts to pay for public improvements in those districts, according to news reports. The Chamber says the financing method would help communities develop their riverfronts, provide affordable housing, and support assorted other urban-renewal projects.

• Maintain a $15 million recurring allocation to help new and expanding business and industry;

• Appropriate $2.5 million to retrofit A-B Tech’s Enka campus for a biotechnology/small business incubation and training center;

• Maintain the same funding to promote and develop the state’s travel-and-tourism industry;

• Earmark $5 million to support the expansion and recruitment of the film industry;

• Stop transferring money out of the Highway Trust Fund (unless required by law) for non-transportation-related purposes;

• Protect the state’s “future economic vitality” by making public education the state’s top priority and prohibiting additional budget cuts to North Carolina schools, universities and community colleges;

• Appropriate “necessary additional funds” to community colleges to cover costs associated with increased enrollment ($28 million), salaries ($20 million) and equipment ($224 million);

• Adopt the UNC Board of Governors’ request for $1.5 million more for UNCA;

• Continue funding state-subsidized childcare, N.C. Health Choice (health insurance for eligible children) and the Smart Start program;

• Put an additional $10 million into the N.C. Housing Trust Fund (for affordable-housing needs) and continuing the state match for federal HOME funds at $4.25 million;

• Phase out counties’ responsibility for Medicaid costs;

• Halt corporate and personal income-tax increases; and

• Amend the constitution to keep the governor from withholding local funds.

In addition, the Chamber wants the N.C. Department of Transportation to:

• Speed up the planning and construction of the I-26 connector through West Asheville, and complete the project by 2010.

And though not asking for anything specific, the Chamber also supports:

• the “concept of the renovation of the Civic Center with appropriate funding”; and

• “appropriate initiatives” related to air quality.

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