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Dan Blue: People’s agenda looms large

By Dan Blue

Legislators have a lot of unfinished business to attend to now that we’ve returned to Raleigh for a special session.

In November, we completed the second-longest legislative session in state history. With 156 legislative days logged in 2019, the General Assembly has little to show for it. We passed a series of mini-budgets, but large portions of the state’s responsibilities remain unresolved.

I look at the state budget as an opportunity to make improvements to our state where they are needed the most. Where are North Carolina’s greatest needs? Educator pay, affordable healthcare, safe drinking water and infrastructure top the list of pressing issues in our state. None of these issues were addressed in the regular legislative session, and it remains unclear what action will be taken.

Local governments are stepping in when they can. But local compensation for state responsibilities has a downside.

Wake and Guilford counties are among the urban counties that have stepped up to give educators a pay raise in the absence of a state pay plan. Rural counties can’t afford to make up the difference. That risks deepening the urban-rural divide across North Carolina.

North Carolina’s $8 billion in school construction needs is based on a 2016 report. Now, four years later, that estimate is conservative at best.

A five-year effort to prep the state for Medicaid transformation has stalled, and 600,000 working North Carolinians have been denied access to affordable insurance through Medicaid expansion.

We receive new reports of contaminated drinking water across our state, while a hollowed out department is left under-staffed and under-funded to protect our taps.

It is highly unlikely that we will be able to act this week on everything that needs our attention. If we can’t pass a budget in 11 months last year, then we won’t do it in special session this week.

Legislators won’t be able to address everything that we need to on behalf of our constituents. But I urge my colleagues to accomplish at least some of the people’s agenda.

Dan Blue is the N.C. Senate minority leader.