A full gamut of issues was addressed, from health care, education, business and between, at the second annual “Sampson Perspective.”
Sponsored by the Clinton-Sampson Chamber of Commerce, the event included an hour of moderated questions to local, state and national leaders before the floor was opened to a half-hour of audience questions.
Leaders in attendance included U.S. Congressman Mike McIntyre, D-7th District; state Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson; and state Rep. William Brisson, D-Bladen. Sen. Richard Burr’s representative Janet Bradbury was also present, as was Sampson County manager Ed Causey and City of Clinton manager Shawn Purvis. State Rep. Larry Bell, D-Sampson, was scheduled to be at the forum, but was under the weather.
Immediate past Chamber president Michael Chestnutt moderated the event.
On the topic of towns’ struggles to find additional revenue, Jackson said on the occasion that he is in Raliegh, he loves stopping by Big Ed’s, a family restaurant that has been in business for 75 years.
“Their privilege license tax in Raleigh went from $100 to $9,000 overnight at the cast of a vote by the Raleigh City Council,” Jackson said. “He said, ‘Brent I don’t know what to do.’”
He asked about the equity in a scenario where other businesses pay $10, $25 or $50 a year. Jackson mentioned the issue to others in the General Assembly and they looked at Raleigh and Charlotte.
“They had taken this privilege license tax for what I feel like we use in Sampson, Duplin or Johnston county for a valid reasonable revenue source — they had taken it and turned it into a full-steam money stream. Charlotte collects $64 million in business revenue tax.”
Jackson said that is what led to a moratorium on the privilege license taxes, an issue which will have to continue to be addressed. Many towns are scheduled to lose a significant amount of revenue, especially those fees currently assessed to sweepstakes cafes, with the elimination of privilege license taxes.
“We’re going to address that issue and many others coming up in the 2015-16 session. We are going to address this tax reform we started in 2013-14 and this is part of the same process,” Jackson said.
The senator pointed to a “bad apple” situation in which larger urban cities in the state were unnecessarily gouging businesses, bringing about the perceived need to shore that up through legislation that would ultimately affect rural counties that rely on that stream of revenue, which is drastically lower.
“We have seen the abuse that is going on across this state in some of the larger metropolitan cities which sadly do not need to be abusive,” Jackson stated. Then pointing to Clinton, Harrells, Wallace and other small towns, he said, “They need it. They’re struggling. Our urban areas are far surpassing it and we need to work on rural North Carolina.”
Chestnutt asked state leaders how they felt about a recent ruling that a school voucher program in North Carolina was unconstitutional.
The new school voucher program for low-income families was ruled unconstitutional last month by a judge who said taxpayer money should not be used for tuition to private or religious schools. The vouchers pay for students to attend privately run K-12 schools that do not have to meet state curriculum requirements, violating the state constitution, Wake County Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood said in his ruling.
A teachers group and many of the state’s 115 school boards challenged the voucher program. Advocates said they planned to appeal.
Jackson said he did not feel the program was unconstitutional.
“This is one judge’s opinion. I’m not saying he’s overstepped his bounds, it’s certainly within his right to do so,” Jackson said, “but I do not feel like this bill was unconstitutional because, one, the bill was providing opportunities for people in the lower class … to have an opportunity to have these vouchers in order to go to these private schools. That’s (an opportunity) that the wealthier North Carolinians have as it is.”
The intent, the senator said, was to “make sure that everyone that is not satisfied with our public school system had the opportunity, regardless of their income, to be able to go to a private school.”
Brisson said he did not have a problem with Charter and private schools, but when tax dollars start to go toward those schools, the representative said that is when he takes issue with them.
“We are sworn to spend tax dollars on public schools, not charter or private schools,” said Brisson, who stressed he might not have those problems if all schools, public and private, were on the same playing field and subject to the same rules. “Right now, they are operating entirely different from public schools … we have rules and regulations, starting from our buildings up that we go by, and these folks don’t have those regulations.”
Brisson said that was the primary reason he voted against the voucher program.
“I just don’t believe in taking money from the public schools when (private schools) are operating entirely different and no one is answering to the state,” he remarked. “If we can get it on the same page … our kids need a choice and I have no problem with them having a choice … but they need to be subject to the same rules and regulations.”
Career, technical jobs
During the audience portion, former Rep. Nurham Warwick asked what legislators saw in Raleigh and Washington as far as career and technical education. Automotive mechanics, welding, brick-laying and agricultural jobs are paramount to the workforce.
“We’re doing our best with technology, but we need help in high schools as well as in grades K-4, to refurbish those programs and find more teachers,” said Warwick. “Unfortunately, we can’t all be in the top or middle third of the class. That bottom third sometimes drops out of school, go on the streets, get in trouble and wind up in the Sheriff’s Office, the court system, the jail, the prison and come right back.”
The career and technical education programs have the “highest holding capacity” for students to graduate, Warwick said, noting some 6,000 teachers across the state, “yet they are suffering.”
Jackson agreed, saying he recently read where the trained workforce in some parts of the state just does not exist to outfit incoming industries.
“Sadly, in Sampson County, we do not have the available workforce for something such as the chicken plant trying to come into Cumberland County,” the senator stated. “We are making progress, slowly but surely. We realize that has got to take place in our high schools and especially in our community colleges — that is where our job workforce comes from.”
Jackson said rural communities like Clinton and Sampson face a tough enough prospect getting and retaining doctors and other medical professionals that require extensive degrees. He said it is just as difficult finding a plumber, electrician or carpenter that requires less schooling.
“They are hard to come by,”the senator said. “but we are making progress in that direction.”
McIntyre, the U.S. Representative for N.C.’s 7th Congressional district since 1997, thanked those in attendance at the forum and offered up his gratitude to Sampsonians as a whole.
“I wanted to come by here to thank you for the opportunity to serve you and work with you these last 18 years,” the congressman said.
He pointed to $30 million in federal funding that went toward building new high schools in Sampson and Roseboro Elementary School, the assistance to veterans that he worked closely with Ann Knowles to provide and the strong ag-based community in the county that he, as a senior member of the Agricultural Committee, can appreciate.
“Sampson County has been a tremendous example of what can be done with rural economic development like what has been done in Clinton, but also what can be done with your hospital, your community college and in helping your farmers and local agri-business,” McIntyre said.
Knowles praised McIntyre for his tireless work for veterans.
“The veterans of Sampson County thank you,” she said.
Chamber member Sherrill Allen thanked McIntyre for hosting the Chamber delegation each year for the “Washington Perspective,” upon which the Sampson forum is based. This will be the sixth year local Chamber officials and business people will attend the event, set for next week, in the nation’s capital.
“Thank you so very much for all you’ve done for Clinton and Sampson County,” Allen remarked. “We appreciate it from the bottom of our hearts.”
McIntyre said he wanted to leave those in attendance with “a message of hope.” He talked about his role as co-chair of a Congressional Prayer Caucus.
“There is a group of us that step across from the Chamber during that first vote and we ask God for wisdom. That’s not a Democrat or Republican plea … we just pray for our country that we make the right decision,” said McIntyre. “Whatever the issue may be, we ask that you pray for us. If there is an issue that is concerning or worrisome to you, whatever it may be, I think we all agree that America is worth it.”
He asked that everyone offer their prayers for their leaders on the local, state and national level.
“I would ask for your prayers,” said McIntyre. “I thank God for this country and I pray may he bless all of you.”
Reach staff writer Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.