Learn more about the issues important to Senator McKissick.
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Our State’s most important issue must be adequately funding our public education system, which includes not merely kindergarten through 12th grade, but our community college and public university system. Education provides the best pathway to good jobs and economic prosperity, regardless of the circumstances a child is born into. If we have a strong and effective public-school system, we can prepare a child not merely to read and write proficiently, but to acquire the skillsets that are necessary to advance their lives and position in society. As an African-American male who grew up in the segregated South, who was born before the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, which declared that public schools could not operate under a “separate but equal” philosophy, I uniquely appreciate the impact of school systems that did not provide equal access to educational resources. I have also observed how so many people have substantially benefitted from the education they obtained in a post-Brown v. Board of Education society. There have obviously been many legal barriers which previously existed which have increased access to opportunities as well. These efforts have led to the breaking of proverbial glass ceilings in business, industry, government, and politics.
Unfortunately, today there are still disparities in the quality of education students are receiving across our state which must be eliminated.
I am deeply concerned by the underfinancing of public education as we have traditionally known it since the Republican majority took control of the N.C. General Assembly in 2011. Not only do budget cuts need to be restored, but we must proactively chart a course that renews and doubles down on our commitment to provide everyone in our state with what we are constitutionally required to provide under our state’s constitution, which is a strong and effective public education. For example, North Carolina is ranked 37th among the 50 states in Teacher pay. On average our teachers earn approximately $10,000 per year less than the national average. We rank 39th among the 50 states in per-pupil expenditures and last year we ranked 50th among the 50 states in Principal pay. These are inequities we must seriously address as well as improving the academic quality of the education provided to our students. We must not just reduce our school dropout rate we must also strive to bring our high school dropout rate to 0. It is also imperative that we provide excellent post-secondary education in our 58 community colleges and through our public university system.
We also need to immediately fund the backlog of students for the North Carolina Pre-K Program (formerly More at Four) and to expand the eligibility of students allowed to participate in the program. Our traditional public education programs should be supplemented so that students and teachers have the resources that they need to enable students to achieve their highest potential. We must provide teachers with the training which they need to be effective in the classroom. I fully support the idea of having teachers or other specialists certified in teaching reading in kindergarten through third grade to better enable our students to acquire the reading skills and proficiency which they need at an early age. There is so much we can do that it is hard to know where to start but having adequate funding and making this a priority is critical to success. We must make a conscious choice to chart this course and be deliberate in our strategies to obtain this outcome. This is a goal most citizens would embrace, and a perspective shared by those in business and industry who want a competent, qualified workforce for the jobs of the future, many of which don’t yet exist as of today. We must prepare to meet this unique challenge.
We need to expand Medicaid to provide healthcare coverage to an estimated 500,000 North Carolinians who do not have health insurance coverage today. Not only do we need to increase access to healthcare and, in addition, we must devote the resources that are necessary to eradicate disparities in healthcare and outcomes. We need to do all that we can to make certain that the rural hospitals in our state remain viable healthcare providers, since their ability to compete and to provide services has been profoundly jeopardized since our state did not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Healthcare costs and access to healthcare services in our state could also be impacted if Certificates of Need are repealed. Their repeal could lead to the most profitable sectors of healthcare services being provided by specialized clinics at a lower cost, which would not have to provide 24-hour services or indigent care, unlike traditional hospitals. If these types of specialized facilities move to rural areas, it could result in the closing of rural hospitals. These are all problems that we need to address as a State.
Our state has seen significant revisions made to our taxation policies since the Republican majority took control of the North Carolina General Assembly in 2011. Today, rather than having a progressive personal income tax, we have a flat tax. This means that high income earners who once paid a tax rate of 7.25 to 7.75% today only pay 5.25% of their income in taxes. In addition, the corporate income tax rate has been reduced from 6.9% to 2.5%, effective in 2019. When I have spoken to businesses in Research Triangle Park, they have all told me that they did not ask for income tax cuts, and that they did not locate in North Carolina because of our tax rate. Instead, it would be their preference that they pay their fair share in taxes and that the funds be used to invest in our public schools and university system so that they can have the
most qualified workforce in the future. Most high-income earners who I’ve met have also indicated that they don’t mind paying their fair share in taxes, rather than paying the same rate that middle income earners pay. We need to rethink our taxation policies, but more importantly, what our long-term needs are as a state, and how we will financially provide for them. In addition to income taxes, we need to also rethink how we pay for transportation infrastructure, which includes roads, bridges and mass transit. We have traditionally relied upon the fuel tax, however, today, as a result of vehicles being more fuel efficient with an ever-growing percentage of electric vehicles on the road, we will increasingly see decreases in fuel tax revenues. However, there will be no corresponding decrease in our transportation infrastructure needs and, in particular, our need as a state to support mass transit systems, which should include our bus systems.
There is obviously a great deal that can be done to decrease gun violence and the proliferation of firearms in North Carolina. The question is, do we have the political will to do so? It is possible that in light of the growing concerns expressed by students and organizations which were the direct outgrowth of the Parkland school shooting in Florida, that there is a greater probability that progress can be made on modest, incremental changes, but certainly not profound and significant changes.
There should certainly be legislation passed that raises the age for purchasing firearms to twenty-one, and which prohibits the sale of assault-style weapons to consumers, and bump stocks should also be prohibited. In addition, background checks and waiting periods prior to gun purchases should be expanded. These are all rather modest changes compared to the types of changes that are actually needed.
We also need to fully fund budgets that provide for school psychologists and school counselors in our public schools. This would assist us in identifying and helping students with mental health challenges before those occasional individuals that are deeply disturbed commit acts of violence that can hurt themselves or others.
Unfortunately, since the Republican majority took control of the North Carolina General Assembly in 2011, we have seen legislation pass which has gone the wrong direction. For example, there has been legislation passed to permit people to carry firearms in funeral processions, to sporting events, onto public college and university campuses, into restaurants that serve beer and alcohol, on to playgrounds, and there is legislation pending now that would pretty much make it unnecessary to have a concealed carry permit. All of these types of policies have literally increased the places that people can carry firearms and increased the probability of people using them inappropriately in such locations.
According to an article which I recently read, in 2016 in North Carolina over 1,400 people died from guns. In addition, homicides from guns increased 27% in one year alone over the preceding year. These types of statistics should give us a great deal of concern. As a victim of gun violence over thirty-two years ago, I am firmly and vigorously committed to programs and initiatives that will limit access to firearms and which will improve the safety of firearms in the homes and businesses of those who choose to own them.
I oppose the current merit selection plans which have been discussed by the North Carolina General Assembly. I served as a Member of the Senate’s Committee on Merit Selection and Judicial Redistricting. I currently serve as a Member of the Joint Senate and House Committee on Merit Selection and Judicial Redistricting. I haven’t seen a plan proposed by the co-chairs of the Joint House-Senate Committee that I could support.
The current plan under consideration would result in the establishment of a new local committee to consider all judicial appointments. The composition of its’ membership has not been established nor have rules or criteria been established which the committee would use for evaluating the qualifications of a person seeking a judgeship. Once a vacancy is created, the local committee would meet to decide if a person considered for a vacancy was qualified or unqualified. No criteria have been established for them to use to make this determination. The local committee would in turn send the names of people it considered for a judicial vacancy to the N.C. General Assembly, which would in turn select 3 people from the list provided that would go to the Governor, who would appoint 1 person from the list. The person appointed by the Governor would stand for election in the 2nd election cycle, after his or her appointment in a Judicial Retention Election. No one would be able to run against a person in this type of election. A voter would simply have the option to vote a person appointed to a judgeship up or down. If the candidate is rejected by voters, then the process would start over again to find a replacement. If the candidate was approved by voters, the candidate would serve one 10-year term on a particular court. This merit selection plan would establish Judicial Retention Elections and would require an amendment to our State’s Constitution before it could be enacted. I don’t find this plan or model acceptable, therefore, I would support our current way of electing or appointing judges which allows any person the right to run as a Judge and would also allows voters the right to elect a candidate who they prefer to represent them. Our current system of electing judges has increased the racial and gender diversity of those serving as judges in our state. The new proposals being considered would likely reduce both.
As a State, we must embrace policies which protect our environment and the quality of life which we enjoy today for the generations that will follow us. We must protect our waters and coastline as well as the steep slopes in our mountains.
I have passionately advocated for years for policies and appropriations which protect our environment. Our State as well as local communities should be able to establish environmental standards and regulations which are more stringent than federal standards if we choose to do so. Federal environmental standards should establish a floor rather than a ceiling for protecting the environment.
As a state we should do all that we can to adopt policies which support the development and expansion of small businesses and to encourage entrepreneurship. We can incentivize and support small businesses through our taxation policies and through the support of entrepreneurship programs in our community colleges and public universities. We can also establish a special fund which would cater to assisting small businesses and entrepreneurs that would have difficulty in obtaining business loans through conventional lenders.
Across America, states and communities are offering a broad array of economic incentives to entice businesses to locate in their communities. Unless Congress were to pass legislation to change this financial landscape, which is exceedingly unlikely, then as a state we must offer competitive incentives to attract and retain new jobs for our residents. It is in the discretion of local governments whether they choose to offer incentives. In some situations, the magnitude of incentives could make a difference in whether a business might decide to locate in an area. It would be great if we lived in a perfect world and incentives were not needed, however, in the current environment, they can make a critical difference.
We must seriously consider the magnitude of the investment being made by a firm, as well as the number of jobs they will provide during construction as well as on a long-term basis, in addition to the pay range and skills that will be required of the employees which will be hired. Some firms, in addition, will attract other firms to an area, which will supply them with parts and materials as well as firms who will benefit from a similarly trained and qualified workforce. Another factor to consider is whether the incentives being offered are equivalent to the extension of water and sewer lines or natural gas lines. These are the types of incentives that other firms could benefit from in the future. These are all factors which need to be thoughtfully considered when decisions are made relating to the magnitude and type of incentives that will be offered.