RALEIGH — A new North Carolina legislative session is set to start this month, but first new members were sworn in on Jan. 13.
Rep. Ray Pickett (R – Blowing Rock) was sworn in for his first term as the representative for the 93rd district which includes Watauga and Ashe counties.
“I am excited to be part of the process,” Pickett said. “I’m extremely excited to represent the 93rd district, and Raleigh it’s going to be an honor to serve the fine folks here.”
Pickett beat incumbent Democrat Ray Russell in November by less than 3,000 votes. So far, Pickett said he’s been working hard to get familiar with the operations of the legislature since this is his first time in office.
“I’ve already been warned that the first couple of weeks, you think that nothing happens at the state legislature because it takes a couple of weeks, (as) everybody’s getting in their office and getting ready,” Pickett said. “When it starts happening, it happens fast.”
As of Jan. 19, Pickett is not assigned to any committees, but he said he had a couple in mind he hopes to be on. He said he is interested in working on the transportation, redistricting and education committees.
“I want to work on ensuring that our schools have what they need,” Pickett said. “Watauga County has great schools, Ashe County does as well. They have a great school system. They have great leadership.”
Pickett said he wants to be on both the kindergarten through 12th grade education committee as well as the higher education one.
For transportation, Pickett said his goal is efficiency.
“We have to get these things done in an efficient manner and an affordable manner,” Pickett said. “I’m seeing simple projects take years to finish and that’s absurd.”
A report released in January by the NC FIRST Commission is recommending North Carolina find new ways to fund the transportation network in the state.
It specifically mentioned declining gas tax revenue, which Pickett knows needs to be reviewed.
“We have for a long period of time funded our roads, a big part of it, through the gas tax, and it hasn’t changed in a long time,” Pickett said. “So we’re going to have to analyze exactly how we’re going to fund it because cars are becoming more and more efficient. So that gas tax is going down, instead of up.”
According to the NC FIRST Commission — which was formed to advise the secretary of transportation in the formation of a sustainable long-range transportation investment strategy — the average driver pays about $16 a month in gas tax. That’s enough over the course of a year to repair one pothole, according to the report.
“We have some tough decisions to make with how we fund, especially our road system,” Pickett said.
The full report can be found at www.ncdot.gov/about-us/how-we-operate/finance-budget/nc-first/Documents/2021-01-08-final-report.pdf.
Another key for Pickett this legislative session is looking at creating more access to broadband internet.
“Broadband expansion is something we definitely have to start to get a hold on,” Pickett said. “We’re going to have to get this broadband into the rural areas, because there’s many people that would love to have it in order to do their job. Maybe they would love to live somewhere like here, but they can’t because we don’t have the broadband.”
He said because broadband is such an important issue, he thinks both Republicans and Democrats will get behind more broadband access.
As far as communicating with his constituents on key issues like broadband, Pickett said he will have a newsletter to keep people informed on what’s going on at the legislature.
Constituents can also contact Pickett through his legislative email or office phone number which can be found at: www.ncleg.gov/Members/Biography/H/772.