Legislators seek solutions to diverse problems

Published 4:33 am Thursday, January 25, 2007

By Staff
Education, Medicaid among their priorities
By NIKIE MAYO, News Editor
Rep. Arthur Williams, D-Beaufort, woke up at 5 a.m. Wednesday to get ready for the opening of the N.C. General Assembly in Raleigh.
His day was far from over when he spoke to the Daily News on Wednesday evening. He planned to “pop in and say hello” at a gathering with Senate leader Marc Basnight, D-Dare, at the N.C. Museum of History.
Williams didn’t dispute the buzz that he’s running to be a majority whip in the state House. But he said he isn’t sure about his chances.
Williams said he hoped to find a solution to the school-construction needs that abound in the state. He said North Carolina counties may have the option to levy a half-cent sales tax to help address those needs, but that may not be enough.
He said he also wants to look at plans for providing better health care for residents who cannot afford it for themselves.
Legislation to establish a “high-risk pool,” if it passed, would allow uninsured residents with chronic ailments to buy affordable health insurance.
Basnight could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
Medicaid is a federal-state program that helps pay for health care for elderly, disabled and low-income residents. North Carolina and New York are the only two states in which counties pay a portion of Medicaid costs. New York is phasing out those county-borne expenses.
An appointed study commission is expected to make recommendations about how North Carolina could deal with the Medicaid burden. But the date its report would be ready was not immediately clear.
Fulk said Basnight “looks forward to the commission’s recommendations, but is certainly open to others.”
The “tax-swap” option has been mentioned as a potential means of Medicaid relief, but nothing’s set, she said. Under such a proposal, North Carolina counties would each return a penny of sales taxes in exchange for the state taking over Medicaid costs. Counties would recover the penny by tacking it on at the local level. The state would give the counties authority to do so.
On environmental issues, Fulk said Basnight hopes the state will take a serious look at beefing up the use of alternate energy sources.
Lots of bond requests are awaiting the General Assembly’s consideration now that lawmakers are back in town, she said. The challenge facing Basnight and his fellow legislators is figuring out how to fulfill those while keeping the state financially healthy.