I am always mindful of my responsibility to take the values, concerns and aspirations of my constituents to Raleigh and to provide principled leadership and practical solutions on the issues that matter to the people of our district and the people of North Carolina. I work for you, not the special interests. In my time in the Senate, I have fought for open and honest government, for a quality education for all, for a robust economy with good jobs in the industries of the future, for a healthy environment, for equal opportunity and equal protection under the law and as an advocate for those with little hope. I am always available to help constituents with problems in their dealings with the State in many areas ranging from the Department of Revenue to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
We have made great progress over the years, but last session, much of that progress was undone by the Republican majority. I will work to restore that direction.
North Carolina has suffered a devastating loss of jobs in the past few years. Both to help the affected families and to help maintain economic activity in the State, I supported Governor Perdue's extension of unemployment insurance benefits over the objections of the Republican-controlled legislature.
An encouraging way forward is to create jobs in one of the fastest growing sectors of our economy: the renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy conservation industries. North Carolina has a rapidly developing solar industry where costs are becoming more competitive fossil fuels every year. And, we can weatherize all our buildings to reduce our energy use by 15 to 40% and train people for jobs to work in that field for many years. We can continue to make advances in the use of wind energy that has a great potential off-shore. Initiatives like these would also address climate change and our dependence on fossil fuels. I have worked on these issues as a member of the Energy Policy Council and will move these initiatives forward.
Economic development that provides more convenient retail options and better jobs need not be inconsistent with efforts to improve opportunities for locally-owned business. While supporting our excellent local businesses, we need to expand our tax base that, in Orange County for example, now falls disproportionally on home owners at about 85%. I pledge to continue my efforts to bring good jobs into our community and to increase the role of locally-owned business in our economy.
Our educational system, from pre-school to our great Community College and University systems is one of the best economic engines for NC and must have adequate funding restored. As our economy transitions to providing "green-collar" jobs, we must find new answers to meet the challenges of educating and training our workforce in new directions such as the programs at both Central Carolina Community College in Pittsboro and the Orange County campus of Durham Technical Community College. I believe strengthening our education system is the answer. Especially in our poorer counties, we must find ways to pay for better schools, increase teacher pay and find funds for equipment for our community colleges and make our universities competitive.
The environment was hit especially hard in this last session with the dismantling of many programs in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The stewardship which we built up for clean water, clean air and open space acquisition was seriously impaired. The budget for these initiatives was slashed, including reducing the Clean Water Management Trust Fund from $100 million when it first started to $12 million this year, just enough to finish out the projects in the pipeline. Program after program, such as preventing mercury pollution, protecting the oyster and fishing industry, the working lands programs, research, and many other valuable programs should be restored and I will work to do so if re-elected.
Tax reform is another area that will help our people by providing a balanced, steady source of revenue for essential services without raising taxes year after year. We need to get the support needed to broaden the base and lower the tax rates. Numerous loop-holes awarded over the years to special interests make this a difficult, but absolutely necessary, effort to serve the people of North Carolina.
If re-elected and Democrats are able to take back the majority in the Senate, I will be in a much better position to continue my work on the Justice Reinvestment Act to redirect funding from building more and more prisons to early intervention and prevention programs that will both reduce the need for more prisons and help our vulnerable youth from slipping into a life of crime. We know this is the common sense answer to making our communities safer and can make a difference for those troubled families with mental health and substance abuse problems. There are effective programs and facilities, but they need more funds to handle the waiting lists and to reach into every community. Revisiting structured sentencing is another way to stop the trend of over-incarceration, especially among minorities. I will also continue my work to fund the deployment of a statewide information technology system that will break down the communication barriers between various state and local criminal justice agencies and help prevent offenders from slipping through the cracks that can lead to further crime and violence. And I will also protect our juvenile justice system so that children are given the help to straighten out and not become career criminals.
We have had a mental health crisis that has plagued us for years. We are putting in place a new system of accountability to make sure help goes to those who need it when they need it. We have pilot programs that are reestablishing local agency control over mental health services and these pilot programs need to be expanded to the entire state as soon as possible. We also restored $40 million for local community programs so we can treat people close to home instead of shuttling them off to an institution. I pledge to continue to work on ways to make the mental health system work for the families that need these services.
Campaign and Ethics Reform
And lastly, but perhaps most importantly, without an open and honest government, making progress in Raleigh on behalf of North Carolina's working families will continue run into the special interests and their influence. The Republican majority has taken our electoral system in the wrong direction by reducing the number of days for early voting and eliminating the same day registration that provides critical opportunities for people to register and vote.
If re-elected, I will again introduce and work to pass the bill I sponsored in 2003 that establishes an independent, non-partisan commission for drawing the legislative and congressional districts. The games that go on every ten years both undermines fair representation in the State and further erodes confidence in our democracy.
They have also removed public financing initiatives at the local level that serve as first steps in improving our campaign finance troubles that have been so magnified by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. As we work to recover from these setbacks a key element of reform is to make even more progress on public financing. The Council of State offices, for example, the State Treasurer, must be chosen by the people without undue influence from those who want to do business with the State. Right now, a "play for pay" system where private money finances campaigns in these lesser known races is ripe for the appearance of conflicts of interest. Fixing this problem, I believe, is the next step in our efforts for the voter to own the elections of our public officials and not the wealthy special interests.
We also need transparency in every department and agency in our government. I pledge to keep close scrutiny on those departments under my Appropriations Committee so that the money we appropriate will go to serve the people and not cover up illegal or shoddy work. Ethics bills passed during the Democratic majority last term will help assure our government is serving the people and not special interests. We closed the revolving door of legislators and staff leaving to become lobbyists for the very companies being regulated. I pledge to continue working on further ethics in government reforms.