Senator Marc Basnight is not your ordinary public speaker. He can have a very informal, personal style even in the middle of such a formal occasion. Here, woven into the speech, he's calling out the challenges to committee chairs and key members of the team.
Senate President Pro Tempore Marc Basnight's Opening Day Speech at the Convening of the 2007-2008 General Assembly. January 24, 2007
To my Lieutenant Governor, thank you for your friendship and support. To Dick Parker, a long-time friend from Manteo who swore me in today, thank you. To all members and families, friends, and guests in the gallery, I not only welcome you but I appreciate your belief in a better government for all people by your participation today.
I have to mention, as all of you would like for me to do, Robert Holloman and his family and all that he did for his district and the people that he loved so very much. Our good God needed him for other reasons above and beyond all that we do. His effort and his belief will be forever with those of us who served with him. So I thank his wife and his children for being with us today.
The tie that I wear today has America’s flag on it, David. It has many of those flags. One thing I always admired about my brother, who is here today, is that he served in the Army and he served in Vietnam. I did not. For that I find some semblance of rightful regret. But he and every soldier in this Country gave us freedom that allows us to wear this flag today. Tony, your and Walter’s great-great-grandfather fought at Brandywine and was wounded there with General Washington. The creation of a Country that gives us so many opportunities is because of the soldiers more so than anyone else. And so today, I wear this tie for every soldier who has served and is now serving this Country in harms way. God bless our military.
Elaine and each and every judge, Sarah Parker, Bob, each and every one of you, you give to us that balance. Maybe when we find ourselves out of balance, and I can’t remember when that was, but obviously you are the third prong of this wonderful government of ours.
It is incumbent upon you in the Senate today that we learn to protect and preserve this institution of your responsibilities and that is what I will ask you to do.
We know North Carolina is the greatest place to live, but others are finding out as well, Kay. Recently, there was a poll done about where is it in America that you would find the most desirable place to live and no surprise to me from the findings of this national poll, it was North Carolina. Good things are happening in North Carolina and they are a result of much of what you’ve done.
Our economy is healthy and growing. It has given employers and workers a greater opportunity for success. Our business climate is the best in the Country according to Site Selection Magazine. We’ve been ranked number one five times out of the last six years and if that isn’t good enough for your consumption, Forbes.com ranks North Carolina as the third best state in this Country to do business. Ernst and Young ranks our business taxes among the lowest in the whole Country.
We are making great gains in our public schools, but we must build on that progress. North Carolina has one-fifth of the Nation’s certified teachers, something to be very proud of. From 1994 to 1995 to 2004 to 2005, only four states raised the teachers’ salaries higher than North Carolina. North Carolina pays roughly two-thirds of the K-12 education costs at the state level. Only three states pay a larger share than we do. So sometimes when the constituents ask you where you spend our money and do you do so wisely, this is one ingredient of the taxes that you collect in this State to see that the local governments do not have to absorb those costs as you see occurring in so many States in this Country and around us. North Carolina is also above the Southeast average in SAT scores.
Our universities are among the Nation’s best and most affordable. Again, in taxation if you were to compare us with South Carolina, those taxes in North Carolina would be utilized for a different purpose if we could charge what they charge. But is that valuable for this State? I would say not. We must continue to subsidize the students in our higher education system at the level that we presently do in this State, which ranks us as one of the greatest buys in all of public education or private education in all of America and I support that with the most recent Kiplinger’s Report that six of the universities in North Carolina were in that top one-hundred ranking and one of them was UNC-Chapel Hill and no surprise to you it was number one in that value.
Also, something not so much a surprise for members but for the audience and the people of this State, the UNC system is third in the Nation for total federal research and development funding to University Systems, something to be very proud of, as well. For every $1 million in research funding that is attracted to North Carolina, about thirty-nine jobs are created. That’s pretty impressive - a one million dollar investment, thirty-three people employed with health care, retirement, a benefit package, and good salaries. The UNC Lineberger Cancer Center was named as one of seven centers nationwide to be part of the alliance for nanotechnology in cancer. UNC-Chapel Hill will receive more than $20 million to fight that dreaded disease. North Carolina State and UNC-Chapel Hill are in the top ten of all public and private universities for the power and productivity of the patents they have produced over the past year.
In Community Colleges every year, one in every six adults in this great State of ours enrolls in the community college system. More than 99 percent of those who completed community college were employed within one year of completing their degree and 100 percent of the employers reported that they were satisfied with the training, Martin, of these new employees that come out of our community college system that you believe in so very much. Expansion Magazine ranks our community college job training programs the fourth best in the Country, another ingredient of why people want to live in the greatest state of all.
Fiscal responsibility - even as our State has grown and even as we have made tremendous investments in education and in our economy, we have kept our tax burden below the U.S. average for the past thirty years. USA Today ranks North Carolina fourth in the Nation for fiscal integrity. North Carolina’s pension fund is ranked the strongest pension fund in the whole Country, David. Not another place can claim what we are able to claim. And we are just one of seven states with a Triple A Bond rating, which was just recently upgraded again. These are some examples of our successes which, because of you, they are true today.
But then again, despite our progress there is much work ahead of us. Public schools keep moving forward on teacher pay. Each and every one of you, Tony, are committed to that, speak of that, believe in that, and preach that and were it not for this Senate and House and this General Assembly and our Governor and people who believe that we can make a stronger and better economy by investing in education, it would not have occurred. So thank you for what you have done for the public school teachers of North Carolina.
Consider higher pay for teachers in math and science, separating the two, not something anyone ever wants to do. You would like to be gracious enough and have enough resources to not have to segregate pay but if the market demands it, if the person is not there with the degree, you have to pay that differential and I would encourage that we move with great haste, to hurry and prepare the finest public school math and science teachers that we can find that are not available today in North Carolina.
And the very best that you get out of education is what we all seek for our children and you cannot reward people just on test scores alone, but also on the effort that you put into the classroom and I believe when students succeed because of a combination of factors and that a teacher goes above and beyond whatever he or she is called upon to do, there should be some rewards to encourage and promote better teachers in North Carolina’s System. Any testing system must be fair, accurate, and reliable and we have not been able to claim such in years past. We should provide the technology and the equipment needed to make sure all students are prepared for any and every job that will make us competitive in this very global economy that we are participating in today.
But the ultimate responsibility is to that child – not to you and me, not to the teacher, not to the school board, not to the principal. You and I are obligated to make sure that every child in our schools has every possible opportunity to succeed with the talents that the good God gave each of them.
In higher education, faculty salaries are always a concern and will continue to be, but they have to be addressed if we are going to be able to compete at the level that we all believe in. Capital facilities in this State are lacking and one of the major reasons that they are lacking is that we are an attractive State. Companies want to do business here, people want to move here. You see families telling family friends where they transferred from, when they leave whatever State it may be to come here, that this is the place that is prepared for them so that means the investment in capital facilities and financial aid to keep a higher education in the reach of all students is critically important.
Mental health issues - obviously we understand they are under-funded. We did appropriate $100 million last year that was budgeted for those very special people and we have to be able to expend those monies wisely and see that we distribute to that need more graciously as resources are available.
Medicaid costs - I believe very strongly that this year we have to resolve that issue, Tony, once and for all so that every county government fully realizes that there will be no payment responsible to those governments in the very foreseeable future over a protracted period of time and with a combination of effort we need to absorb that responsibility so that the very poorest among us, Doc, have that ability to expend those funds that are of such a high percentage of their monies today in the kind of ingredients that make life so much richer by building a stronger economy within their communities and then maybe we can speak of “One North Carolina.”
There is an issue that affects all too many families and that is healthcare that is affordable, and I believe that we can in some way do better than what we presently do today, and that has to be in cooperation with small business because it is in that community that we find the greatest number and percentage of people and families without healthcare. So we have to work to improve those conditions for these very people that work in our community.
Environment and energy - so much can be said about that. I remember ten years ago when I first heard about, and John Garrou chairs our committee on behalf of the Senate, the Global Warming Committee, and I was a bit skeptical, not just ten years ago, but five years ago, and most of the science community was more skeptical than I that nothing was occurring that man was affecting. But boy, have you seen a shift in those ideas and thoughts.
Now it took some time to better understand very difficult and frightening predictions that water would be on the State Capital because of global warming and because of man. So the frightening statements have leveled off and are not quite as aggressive in language as we have seen in years past, but now I have come to the conclusion, and unless someone can help me defeat that belief, that we are creating much of this problem. I come to that conclusion because so many people print their positions that we can read and understand and more and more people are doing so. And if we don’t take some actions that can create less of the use of carbons that are creating the greenhouse gases in our environment, if we don’t protect those particular concerns, if we error, what a God awful affect it will have on North Carolina.
So there are many things that we can do. One of the simple things we did here, Fred, was that we removed every incandescent light in this building. These are all fluorescent lights in here and in your offices today. The savings are in excess of $30,000 per year on our utility bill just by changing the fluorescent lights and putting dimmer switches in your offices and may grow as energy costs grow. Simple things that you can do that you have exhibited have to be done. I cringe at the thought of the Outer Banks being underwater. I don’t believe it will occur. I believe America will follow the lead of many and we heard the President of the United States say last night that Global Warming is real and it is here and we have to make energy changes. One of the recommendations that Duke Power, the CEO for Duke Power and many other companies in this Country, made was that we reduce carbons in America by the year 2050 by the present load by eighty-percent. If I remember those figures properly, Senator Hartsell, I believe that he was recommending that we move by twenty-percent in the next ten years of the existing reduction. We can do much of that through efficiencies, but there is much more work that can be done through our Universities that will give us the kinds of recommendations that will derive better energy concepts by the investment of research.
Infrastructure needs - I understand, as you understand, that there is not a county in this State that does not need resources to build the buildings in which to teach our students. I realize as you realize, Senator Kerr, that the infrastructure needs for water and sewer in this State are horribly high, maybe exceeding $15 billion. I understand as you understand that we have many, many crowded highways in this State around our urban centers and I also understand that we have no traffic on roads in rural areas of North Carolina because of the lack of a road system and a water and a sewer system and an infrastructure that would allow for development. I, as you, know and fully understand that you invested some years ago in the Clean Water Management Trust Fund. You’ve believed in that, you’ve never dropped that crusade to make those investments and today we are at $100 million per year in an escalating fight to preserve some of the properties that are so important to the environment, the landscape, the look and the future of North Carolina. That lacks as well. We do need billions; we do need money properly spent. I encourage every agency in the State to be prudent with the taxpayer’s money and that you spend it wisely, you invest it properly and we get a return on behalf of all the people in this State.
My greatest wish today is that we all work together, not as a party of people, but as a group of Senators who believe and know we can make life better and richer outside of politics. I believe that you elected me to participate in a better government, and I thank you for that. Today I stand and wish for better opportunity, better health, and a better life for all people. I thank you, God bless and Godspeed to the Old North State.