Staff photo by Cole Dittmer
North Carolina Justice Center Deputy Director Bill Wilson addresses the audience gathered for a town hall meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 12, about the local impacts of recent legislation passed by the North Carolina General Assembly.
When and how the recent legislative decisions of the North Carolina General Assembly will affect Wilmington and New Hanover County residents was the topic of a town hall meeting held in the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Cameron Hall.
The Tuesday, Nov. 12 meeting was hosted by the North Carolina Justice Center, a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization focused on improving the lives of North Carolinians by working on a larger progressive agenda.
Guest speakers covered various topics including healthcare; Candace DeMatteis, a political consultant, spoke about the General Assembly’s choice to not accept billions of dollars in federal funding for the expansion of Medicaid.
Kemp Burdette of Cape Fear River Watch warned the audience of the negative environmental impacts of the latest General Assembly session referencing the shift in the mission of the state’s environmental agencies, from being concerned with the protection of natural resources to being customer service friendly to companies seeking permits around standards like air and water quality.
Other hot topic issues included education funding, film incentives and voting issues. Bruce Holsten, former international banker and managing director of American Harbor Capital Strategies, said all of these social issues together were helping to deter business development in the state.
“The idea that I really feel strongly about and, having lived internationally for 18 years … is this: the perception of what is happening in this state is worse than what is actually happening,” Holsten said. “So if you talk to a businessman in London, Israel or Dusseldorf — all of which I have done — their attitude and reaction to what we are doing here is mind-numbingly laughable.”
Two companies, one British and one Israeli, were looking to North Carolina to open new branches but Holsten said the recent policy shifts ended those potential deals.
Chris Fitzsimon of N.C. Policy Watch, part of the North Carolina Justice Center, said the justice center has been hosting meetings around the state and that he has found North Carolinians are surprised by the legislature’s actions.
“Obviously people in Wilmington are concerned about jobs and the economy like everybody else around the state,” Fitzsimon said. “I do think a lot of folks in North Carolina are surprised about how far this General Assembly has strayed from the direction North Carolina had been going.”
Local delegate, Representative Ted Davis Jr., R-New Hanover, was in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting and said he felt it was important for him to attend any town hall meetings but that the information presented was one-sided.
“For one, they talked about unemployment benefits being cut but they didn’t say that the state owes $2.4 billion to the government for money that had to be borrowed to pay those benefits and we have to pay interest on that in the millions of dollars,” Davis said. “If we hadn’t had to borrow that money we would be able to have that money for education and other funds.”
One issue Davis said he has been approached about more than others is the state of education. He, among other legislators, would not be opposed to taking a look at teachers’ salaries and education funding, he said.
“I’m learning a lot more about education and I’m learning more about how it has affected the local people and I’ve never been totally closed to change,” Davis said. “I know some other legislators and I are talking about hopefully being able to do something. You can pass laws but you have to be willing to tweak them if you find that there is anything wrong with them or you can improve them.”