Lt. Gov. Forest shares views in Sanford visit

Aug. 21, 2013 @ 10:57 PM

Lt. Gov Dan Forest spent more than two hours among area residents during a town hall meeting Wednesday night,where people engaged in conversation with him and local representatives Jamie Boles, Deb McManus and Mike Stone.

About 50 people came to the Lee County Arts & Community Center on North Steele Street to hear the lieutenant governor, a Republican, talk politics with fellow Republicans Boles and Stone, as well as McManus, a Democrat. About a dozen people, hailing from at least three different counties, asked questions on a variety of subjects.

Education was a prominent topic, as were energy policies, government spending, fraud in welfare programs and the recent tax reform which lowered personal and corporate income taxes. Lee County Sheriff Tracy Carter started the tax discussion, noting he has been working full-time since he was 17 and appreciated the break, and asking what everyone’s ultimate tax goals were.

“My goal would be that we would move to a 0 percent personal income tax and a 0 percent corporate income tax — in a reasonable time,” Forest said. “We are still in the middle of a recession.”

He said North Carolina’s reputation as a business-friendly state has risen since the reform passed this summer, and that he wants the state to eventually be known as the most business-friendly in the country.

McManus, however, questioned the long-term feasibility of the reform.

“The money for government for those basic services has to come from somewhere,” she said. “... I’m curious where you think it should come from.”

Forest said more people ought to pay federal income tax, and that welfare programs need to stop being an incentive not to work.

“America has a great safety net... but at some point, our safety net turned into a hammock,” he said.

That prompted a question later in the night from Lee County Republican Party Chairman Charles Staley, who brought up a recent report from the libertarian Cato Institute which found that in many states, people who receive every welfare benefit available actually make more than the minimum wage. He asked McManus specifically what should be done about that.

McManus said it was a great question, but one better suited for the federal government. She did, however, say welfare reform is something she wished President Barack Obama had addressed more seriously.

Stone said he agreed with much of what she said, adding that as a business owner who serves people on food stamps, he sees some people who maybe don’t need it but also realizes “there’s a tremendous amount of people in need.” He concluded that churches, not the government, need to be the first place people look for help.

Sanford attorney Ed Page asked the panel what they thought the biggest misconceptions about the previous session were, and what their goals for the next session are.

Forest said that the idea that Republicans cut education funding “is a bunch of baloney” because the state actually spent more on education than ever before. McManus said that while that’s technically true, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

“When we say we’re spending more than we ever have, it’s because we’re serving more students than ever,” McManus said. “Our per-pupil funding is actually down.”

She also noted that teacher pay has remained stagnant and at the lower end of the country, and that North Carolina actually ranks dead last in the U.S. in education spending growth. Forest responded that if Republicans are to blame, then so are Democrats — perhaps even moreso.

“We’re not spending more on teachers,” Forest said. “But the reality is ... when the Democrats were in charge they both raised taxes and didn’t give raises to teachers.”

Following a question from Lee County Commissioner Jim Womack — who, in introducing Forest called him the best political candidate he knows, including his brother who’s a U.S. Congressman in Arkansas — the panel addressed energy development in North Carolina, particularly hydraulic fracturing operations for natural gas. Forest advocated swift action, Stone and Boles advocated resolute yet cautious and slower action, and McManus said it’s going to happen no matter what she thinks, so she will work to make sure it’s as safe as possible.

Lee County resident Dale Marks brought up the state’s large Hispanic population, noting that most of them whom he meets are hard workers, religious and have a focus on strong families. He asked why the Republican Party couldn’t get a larger Hispanic voting bloc.

Forest said the GOP “has traditionally been perceived as the old, rich, white party” and that they needed to do more to get their message into minority communities. But before anything can be done regarding immigration, he said, the Mexican border needs to be secured.

Boles said he believes a compromise would be the best situation, in which people can apply for citizenship or can just apply for a work permit to come here temporarily. McManus agreed, with both of them saying that the agriculture work goes to migrant Hispanic workers because American citizens simply won’t do it.