Reives: Budget falls short, but helps Chatham

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RALEIGH — There’s a lot about the state budget Rep. Robert Reives II (D-Dist. 54) helped approve that he didn’t like, primarily because — in his words — it “didn’t really do a lot” to invest in the state of North Carolina.

So why his favorable vote last Monday?

Because of what it brings to Chatham County.

The budget was approved in both chambers of the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper on July 11. Reives, a Goldston resident and the House Minority Leader in N.C.’s GOP-led General Assembly, was part of the 82-25 favorable House vote. His counterpart in the N.C. Senate, Majority Leader Dan Blue, though, voted against the budget.

“I think he had the same rationale about the budget I did,” Reives said. “We took about $6 billion” — the state’s fiscal surplus — “and just didn’t do anything with it.”

Reives acknowledged the danger of spending money just because it’s there; he also agreed about the wisdom of a solid “rainy day” fund.

“I’m completely for fiscal responsibility,” he said. “But on the flip side, if we were going to give state employees raises, then give raises. If we’re going to do a COLA [cost of living adjustment], then do a returning COLA. If you’re going to do investments, let’s invest in things that help the state.”

Reives said there’s a balance between responsible spending and “making things better” for people.

“But if people can’t walk out of that budget process — if they can’t walk out with a 600-page document and tell you how your lives got better, then we’ve made a mistake,” he said.

The budget is, for the most part, a “true spending budget,” but that wasn’t enough for Reives. When asked about a recent survey that said 63% of state residents felt elected officials weren’t doing enough to improve the standard of living for North Carolinians, Reives said he concurred.

“It just didn’t do it,” he said. “It didn’t do what it should have done.”

But part of what it did do was provide Chatham County with $600 million — including $450 million for infrastructure improvements in and around Triangle Innovation Point (the former Moncure Megasite) and another $112.5 million to be split between Siler City’s Chatham Advanced Manufacturing (CAM) site and the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite between Siler City and Asheboro. Another $2 million was earmarked for water and wastewater work in Siler City.

Those were elements he said he fought for, and wasn’t about to turn down — which is why he voted for it. Even so, Reives criticized the structure of funding provided for things like broadband access across the state, calling it “a big failure” on the part of his colleagues.

“We’re spending more money on broadband than we ever have,” he said. “This would have been a prime opportunity to jump on that because you’ve got so much money … it would allow you to get over some of the obstacles. We could have literally repealed two statutes, and we could have taken this budget and literally had internet from the mountains to the coast without blinking. You’ve got people who are never going to get internet under the plan that we’ve got right now.”

Reives also said opportunities in the budget to invest more in education — in part to create a better learning environment for students — and affordable housing were partially squandered, along with easing the burden of health care costs and addressing statewide infrastructure, including crumbling state roads.

He’s hopeful, though, those issues will ultimately be addressed at the state level. Reives cited a recent CNBC.com story, published last Wednesday, which ranked North Carolina as America’s top state for business in 2022. The story’s author said N.C.’s strong economy and a “turbocharged” track record of innovation were factors in putting it atop the list. But another was the fact that “state leaders keep managing to put aside their very deep political divisions to boost business and the economy.”

The CNBC story quoted Alexander H. Jones, writing in the blog Politics North Carolina: “Divided government is working in North Carolina. Cooper and the Republicans have worked together hand-in-glove.”

“We’re the best state in the country to do business in right now,” Reives said. “And I know that both sides of the aisle would say, ‘Oh, this happened because of the Democrats.’ Or, ‘This happened because of the Republicans.’ But here’s the truth: the reason North Carolina got better is because we’ve gotten past partisan differences.”

The state needs leaders, he said, who will, “whatever their party, will walk in trying to figure out solutions for people who work every day.”

Too often, he said, solutions are “thrown to the side” because no one wants to compromise and “nobody wants anybody else to get credit.” In the past year, though, that happened less frequently.

So he remains hopeful — and also thankful the budget’s passage will, no matter what, create permanent positive changes here.

“We’re getting money that is going to benefit the county no matter what,” he said — in the form of real, tangible improvements to Chatham’s two megasites that will last, regardless of what happens in the economy or two industries locating there.

“All of these things help the county specifically,” he said. “That’s good for us.”

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