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Sunday, June 16, 2024

NC trend: Lawmakers focus on economic development

Our paid daily newsletter provides detailed interviews with key lawmakers, Q&As with other political leaders and lots of stories tracking daily happenings at the state legislature during the current session.

Here’s some of what you missed. Sign up today at nctribune.com.


A NEW ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT CAUCUS

Thirty-seven House members have banded together to form what they’re calling the Economic Development and Foreign Trade Caucus.

House Majority Leader John Bell, R-Wayne, and Minority Leader Robert Reives, D-Chatham, are co-chairing the group, which aims to “establish durable relations with the private sector” and foreign countries.

Their announcement said the group wants to act as “a versatile and responsive mechanism within the General Assembly for engaging with the private sector and foreign dignitaries.”

Reives noted that Chatham County has benefited from “a whirlwind of economic-development deals in the past two years.”

The most prominent of them was the 2022 announcement that state and local governments had joined forces on a $1.2 billion incentives package that convinced Vietnamese carmaker VinFast to build EVs in a $4 billion factory near Moncure. Officials expect the VinFast project could create about 7,500 jobs.

The truism that politics stops at the water’s edge still holds when it comes to industrial recruiting, which in this state has proceeded on a bipartisan basis.


CHILD CARE PACKAGE

Members of the bipartisan Early Childhood Caucus rolled out five bills that address child-care issues and between them call for $430.4 million in spending over the next two fiscal years.

The centerpiece of the package is House Bill 342, which would allot $300 million in federal and state funds to continue the subsidies child care centers started receiving during the COVID pandemic.

All five bills will have Senate counterparts with sponsors from both parties, and Rep. David Willis, R-Union, said the caucus has “had support from both corner offices” — meaning House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger — “throughout this process.”

Nor is that all.

“Our state’s business community is aligned,” said Debra Derr, director of government affairs for the N.C. Chamber. “North Carolina’s employers have identified child care as a crucial factor in our state’s workforce challenges.”


DERAILMENTS HAVE LAWMAKERS ASKING TRAIN QUESTIONS

February’s derailment of a chemical-laden Norfolk Southern freight train in East Palestine, Ohio, has some North Carolina legislators seeking reassurances about the state’s relationship with the company.

The company leases the state-owned, 317-mile N.C. Railroad that connects Charlotte and Morehead City. So N.C. Railroad Co. CEO Carl Warren had some questions to answer after he finished a budget briefing.

“What’s the most important thing we can learn and how can we make sure it doesn’t happen in North Carolina?” asked Sen. Michael Lazzara, R-Onslow.

Warren responded that he’s “pretty happy” with Norfolk Southern’s maintenance of the corridor. He said safety is “part
of the reason” his organization is “so careful about managing new uses” on the corridor, including passenger service and
utility encroachments.

While some of the line’s older bridges remain “sound and within legal standards,” he would like “to see some additional investment.”

Rep. Frank Iler, R-Brunswick, asked whether the East Palestine incident could undermine Norfolk Southern’s finances. “They’ll have a huge liability up in Ohio,” Iler said, alluding to remediation and litigation costs because of the spillage and burn-off of toxics.

The trackage-rights agreement with Norfolk Southern accounts for about 75% of N.C. Railroad’s annual revenue, which was $25.1 million in 2022, according to an unaudited report.

“In terms of us getting paid by Norfolk Southern, I don’t see any risk in that sense,” Warren said. He hopes the incident heightens attention to safety culture throughout the rail industry.

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