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Advocacy at Work

To continue to further lean in as the lead advocate for business regarding local, state and federal policy issues impacting business in Catawba County, in 2021, we hired Brian Francis, Founder of Lumin Strategies, as our Advocacy Director.  Francis has more than 20 years of experience in communications and public affairs, previous serving as Public Affairs Officer for Mecklenburg County and Vice President of Public Policy Programs at the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce,  Adding Brian to our team has provided the extra bandwidth & expertise we need as an organization to take our Advocacy program to the next level. 

Over the last year, Brian has worked closely with our very active Advocacy Taskforce, made up of thirty business and community leaders, on establishing our Guiding Principles and will kick off our Legislative Agenda setting process in the coming weeks to identify specific policy goals for the coming year.  Additionally, we’ve provided the business community access to our elected leaders from the Commissioner of Labor, members of our state delegation, the Speaker of the NC House and US Congressman Patrick McHenry through discussion-rich forums, Q&A roundtable discussions and taking a day trip to the Legislative Building in Raleigh.  Finally, Brian provides weekly “Advocacy@Work Updates” in the form of a brief video to cut through the noise and make sure our partners know what policy decisions impact their businesses and how we collectively can influence them.  Most recently, Francis has been monitoring the short session and its impact on Catawba County, which proved to by quite fruitful for Catawba County.

The North Carolina General Assembly short session has adjourned, though not in the typical way. Usually, at the end of the short session, they adjourn “Sine Die.” Sine Die is a Latin phase meaning “without a date” and signals that the legislature has adjourned without a date to return.  This year, however, they plan to reconvene monthly to address any urgent issues and potentially pass unfinished legislation.

Before adjourning, they passed a revision to the two-year state budget as well as a local act relative to the distribution of the Occupancy Tax imposed in Hickory and Conover.

First the state budget.  North Carolina realized higher than expected tax receipts for 2021, and as a result was able to make numerous additions to the state budget.

Specific to Catawba County, the General Assembly made the following one-time appropriations:

  • $1 million to the Western Piedmont Council of Governments, headquartered in Hickory, for capital improvements.
  • $200 thousand to the Catawba County Historical Association for improvements at Ball’s Creek Campground
  • $200 thousand to the Catawba County Historical Association for improvements at Murray’s Mill Historic District.
  • $700 thousand for improvements to the Hickory Regional Airport
  • $500 thousand for improvements or equipment for the Town of Maiden Fire Department.
  • $8 million to Catawba County for school capital improvements.

The updated budget also addressed several statewide issues that will impact Catawba County. Teachers and other state employees will receive an additional 1% pay raise beyond what was approved for the upcoming fiscal year in the previously approved budgets.  The total will be 3.5% for state employees and an average of 4.6% for teachers.

The General Assembly also began addressing transportation funding needs by allocating about $200 million from the General Fund to the Highway Fund and Highway Trust Fund.  This is part of their commitment to dedicate a portion of sales tax collections to road construction each year.

The legislature also appropriated more than $600 million to upgrade the state’s water and wastewater infrastructure.  That funding will be made available to local governments and water authorities through a Department of Environmental Quality grant program and the city of Newton is slated to receive $33.75 million while Catawba County will receive $1 million.

Finally, while most of this legislative session was focused on the budget and big issues that did not become law (Medicaid expansion, sports betting and medical marijuana), the legislature did pass 75 new laws.  Most of these laws are considered “local bills” and apply to only certain areas of the state.  For instance, Session Law 2022-40 extends the current Hickory and Conover Occupancy distribution formula from a 2029 sunset to a 2039 sunset.

If you have any questions about action taken by the legislature this year or if you’re a Chamber partner and would like to receive our weekly Advocacy@Work updates or engage in our advocacy efforts, please contact me at lkeisler@catawbachamber.org.

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