Wake Forest representative talks budget, bills.
By David Leone
WAKE FOREST — N.C. Representative Chris Malone, a Wake Forest resident representing House District 35, recently hosted a town hall type meeting to chat with residents and get their feedback. About 30 people attended, some in support of spending cuts; others concerned about proposed bills wending their way through the state House or Senate.
“Things are really going forward,” Malone said. “Things are looking up — jobs, unemployment … I’m hoping we’ll continue to move in the right direction.”
Malone described some changes in attitude among the legislature in recent years, for instance, about how the historic preservation tax credit cut was being reconsidered and the restoration of some of the film industry incentives as well.
There’s a 2.6-percent job growth and teacher pay is up, he said, criticizing some of the rhetoric surrounding education issues as partisanship at play.
“Education spending (on average) went from 46th to 33rd,” and the ranking may drop further, he noted. “This budgetary cycle, it’s probably going to go down farther.”
“Teacher pay is up to $35,000, which is what we were aiming for for a long time,” he added.
Mental health spending is up $33 million, and a child care credit for troubled kids has been added for grandparents. Malone talked about a pilot program he crafted to increase the number of crisis beds at hospitals available for people with psychiatric issues.
“We’re very proud of that one as well,” he said.
Malone also doted on Medicaid, claiming an increased enrollment and even spending as progress. The state legislature has been criticized for refusing to accept federal monies to expand Medicaid to bring more low income families in compliance with the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Legislators have said that in the long run, the state will end up footing the bill for a chunk of those subsidies.
Seniors, nonprofits worried
A call for questions brought up a number of concerns, including one by Dick Van Sickle, who was upset the legislature eliminated a senior citizen tax deduction.
“We made a mistake,” with that, Malone agreed. Noting that there is currently a $400 million surplus, the N.C. House plans to restore that credit, if an agreement with the state senate is possible.
“I’m sorry that happened,” he added.
Another concern — a cap on nonprofit sales tax refunds proposed by the Senate — came from two representatives from the Kerr Family YMCA, Shinica Thomas, who sits on the Y’s board of directors, and Walt Reynolds, branch director.
Without the cap, the Y can get reimbursed for taxes on as well as on charitable contributions and on materials and expenses for the programs it runs for the benefit of the community as part of its We Build People campaign. None of those donated campaign monies pay for the Y’s regular operations.
“The YMCA in this community in particular provides free programs, lunches for kids, free swim programs…,” Thomas said. “The cap is not going to allow the Y to continue to provide those programs.”
“We’re very protective of the charitable deductions,” Reynolds added later.
Malone said he didn’t favor that change. “If you’re nonprofit, you’re nonprofit,” he said.
Two residents criticized tax rates, both focusing in on gas taxes.
“Why buy gas in North Carolina if you live near the border,” Larry Schug pointed out. “It’s 20 cents cheaper in Virginia.”
Though he didn’t address it directly, Malone said he was generally against bond issues because they often lead to a tax increase as debt balloons.
When asked how he felt about the legislature redistricting Wake County’s commissioner districts, Malone said he supported the change because it’s more representative.
“I voted for it,” he said. “I don’t want anybody from, say, Cary, to have any say in who I vote for,” he added.
Another question about the solar industry revealed that Malone favors allowing private companies to install solar panels on residences to offset the costs of their electric power.
Holding up a specialty newspaper from elsewhere in the state that criticizes Malone and other legislators for their stance on the alternative energy, he rebutted that promoting private solar “is not going to have an effect on rates — it’s a monopolistic system.”
At one point, Malone seemed to disagree with a resident over what would be or wouldn’t be allowed in the Ag Gag bill.
The pro-industry bill is designed to prevent people from applying for employment at poultry plants or other private companies just to document abuses. The chicken industry has suffered repeated criticisms for cruelty in the workplace in how it treats and euthanizes its chickens.
Malone said the bill would not affect ordinary employees reporting abuses, but Monroe, who works in a senior care facility, pushed back. He produced a copy of the bill, which doesn’t show any of the distinctions Malone mentioned. That copy only states that “an employee” who records activity or data can be prosecuted.