NC legislature plans HB2 ‘compromise’ and teacher pay raise

Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican, watches as others are sworn in Wednesday after he was re-elected as Senate president pro tempore as the N.C. General Assembly convened for the 2017 session
Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican, watches as others are sworn in Wednesday after he was re-elected as Senate president pro tempore as the N.C. General Assembly convened for the 2017 session

House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger offered a few hints Wednesday about the legislature’s 2017 agenda during a ceremonial opening day for the long session.

No bills will be filed until legislators return on Jan. 25 and get down to business, but Moore and Berger said Republicans will continue to push conservative tax policies, increase teacher pay and cut regulations on businesses – major themes since Republicans took control of the General Assembly in 2011.

But the legislature is also still considering the ghost of 2016: House Bill 2, the controversial LGBT law that has cost the state economic development and sporting events. Moore said HB2 isn’t a dead issue.

Moore said he thinks lawmakers will take another look at House Bill 2 after a failed compromise to repeal it last month. HB2 requires transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds with the gender on their birth certificate, and it strikes down local nondiscrimination ordinances.

“Conversations continue to happen, and I think you’ll see us trying to find some compromise on that issue,” Moore told reporters. “You won’t see the General Assembly betray its principles, but if there are ways to deal with the concerns that were there and perhaps allay any issues or concerns of the business community, I think you can probably see something like that.”

Teacher pay: Berger said in his opening speech to the Senate that he’ll look to increase teacher pay again.

“We’ll continue efforts to reform and improve public education for our students and have already committed to raising average teacher pay to $55,000 over the next two years,” he said.

Moore was less specific in Berger in making promises about teacher pay raises.

“We’ve had great conversations on a number of things, and I applaud Sen. Berger in looking at that as a goal,” he said. “We’ve come to believe that moving the needle forward on education compensation for our teachers is a good thing.”

Tax cuts: Moore said the legislature could also take another look at tax changes this year. In recent years, Republicans have cut corporate and personal income taxes while expanding the state’s sales tax to cover more services.

“My position is I want to see us lower taxes as much as we can at every level,” he said. “Are there any plans that are hard and fast right now? No, there aren’t but there are a lot of discussions happening.”

Berger addressed the issue in his speech but didn’t provide specifics. “We will not, under any circumstances, return to the failed tax-and-spend policies of the past that gave us the mess we inherited in 2011,” he said. “We’ll continue to look for ways to reduce the tax burden on families, small businesses and other job creators, helping them keep more of their own money.”

Medicaid expansion: Moore was critical of Gov. Roy Cooper’s effort to expand Medicaid in defiance of a law aimed at preventing the governor from making that move. Cooper has said the law doesn’t apply to his plan, which was submitted to the federal government last week.

Moore said legislators are “looking at options” for stopping the governor’s plan.

“Every attorney – and of course you can’t swing a dead cat around here and not hit a lawyer – but every lawyer that I’ve spoken with at this point says the law is very clear,” Moore told reporters. “I don’t believe it’s legal or proper for the governor to try to circumvent that law.”

Regulations: Berger said he wants to look at more deregulation efforts this year. A regulatory reform bill failed in the final hours of last year’s session, and legislators in both chambers have said it could be resurrected.

“We’ll do even more to simplify outdated, job-killing rules and regulations and foster a better business climate, with the goal of sustaining North Carolina’s strong job growth,” he said.