NC Representative Jamie Boles is a proud Moore Contain — and proud to represent the County in the NC General Assembly.
But you can't talk with him for very long without realizing he sees the job as bigger than that.
"I am a North Carolina Representative," he told The Times during an interview in his Southern Pines office on Thursday, January 28.
"I vote for ten million people," Boles said. "I am fortunate that I represent 88,000 people in Moore County. I am blessed. But if everybody would get up and walk out of a committee meeting or a budget meeting with 'Well, this doesn't pertain to my County, so I'm going to vote no,' where would we be?"
That broader responsibility to the state as a whole may help explain some of Boles' recent differences with the Moore County Board of Commissioners.
County Chairman Nick Picerno is actively campaigning for Boles' challenger in the March 15 GOP Primary, and the full Board of Commissioners has been passing strongly worded resolutions asking that Boles and other members of the Moore County legislative delegation explain their votes for a budget that left Moore County out when dividing up $84.8 million in new sales tax revenues.
The Commissioners have also called on the legislature to revise the way that teachers are allocated, focusing on the needs of individual schools instead of using countywide averages. And they called for the state to do away with the tier system that directs economic development money and other funds to poorer counties, while ignoring the pockets of poverty within so-called "wealthy" counties, like Moore.
Deep roots in Moore
Boles has deep roots in Moore County, coming up through the Aberdeen schools, graduating from Pinecrest, and then moving on to Sandhills Community College before entering mortuary school. A successful small businessman, Boles built a string of funeral homes in the surrounding area, centered on the flagship property on Pennsylvania Avenue in Southern Pines.
As a kid, he spent Wednesday afternoons selling the Sandhills Citizen newspaper at ten cents for its publisher, former Speaker of the NC House Clifton Blue.
"If you every wanted to be elected to any office in the state of North Carolina, you had to be approved by Mr. Blue," Boles recalled. "I remember watching politicians come through his office, and for me to be sitting in his seat today is quite an honor."
"That was one of the reasons that I ran when I did run in 2008, because I didn't feel that Moore County was being well represented in the General Assembly — and by someone who didn't come from Moore County."
Turning the battleship
Boles said he is seeking a fifth two-year term in office because there is still plenty more work to be done in furthering what some have called the "Republican Revolution" in Raleigh.
The Party took over both houses of the General Assembly in 2010 — the first time since Reconstruction that the state has been led by Republicans.
But, after more than 140 years of Democratic rule, making all the changes necessary "is like trying to turn a battleship in a canal," Boles said.
"I feel like we are on the right road — in tax reform — in education reform — and I want to finish what we have started."
Boles said it takes time for a new legislator to "learn the ropes: as far as the staff available to you and how to maneuver a bill through the House and the Senate."
When he was first elected in 2008, the Democrats were still in charge in Raleigh, and a freshman Republican Representative was allowed to vote and not much else.
Among the accomplishments of the new GOP majority to which Boles pointed were "putting more money back into education. Of course, there is never going to be enough money for education."
Not only has the GOP majority increased teacher pay, Boles said, they reduced the number of step levels in the educators' pay structure from thirty-six to six, providing teachers with more certainty about when they could expect increases.
Boles pointed to regulatory reform, as well. "Businesses are able to cut through a lot of red tape, and bring business to North Carolina," he said.
"We have paid off over a billion dollar debt to the federal government" for unemployment insurance, he added. That both ensures that unemployment insurance will be there for citizens in the future, he said, as well as reducing the level of unemployment taxes that small businesses must pay "so they can expand and hire more people."
"We have a budget surplus, which we didn't have before," Boles said. "In the past, we have been borrowing money to balance that budget and that isn't happening anymore. And now we have a billion dollar reserve."
"And we've lowered the personal income tax."
That last achievement is one that Boles expects to see expanded. He said the GOP's goal is ultimately to eliminate the income tax altogether, moving instead to a consumption, or sales, tax to fund all the state's needs — something he said would likely take six or eight years to fully accomplish.
Representing Moore County
Boles said he was proud of his track record of representing Moore County, noting that he had won legislative approval for each of the initiatives that the Moore County Board of Commissioners had asked him to introduce.
Those include winning Moore County the right to increase its occupancy tax from three percent to six percent, a reduction in the size of the Moore County School Board from eight to seven members, and the right to redraw the lines of the Commissioner residency districts.
Lately, the Commissioners have tried to pressure Boles and other members of the legislative delegation on other fronts: for example, making sure that counties receive forty percent of lottery proceeds for school construction, as they did when the lottery began, instead of the nineteen percent they currently receive.
Asked, about that effort, Boles said he was opposed to the lottery from the beginning.
"I knew what would happen once it passed: They would swap lottery money into the state budget. If we have to rely on lottery money to educate our children, we are pretty bad off. I don't think the lottery has contributed to the welfare of the education system."
Boles noted that the County is responsible only for the "brick and mortar and maintenance; the state is responsible for the rest."
"I understand the frustration of the County Commissioners, but they were under the misperception that the lottery was going to solve everything."
"I'm not going to get into an argument with the County Commissioners, Boles said. "But, if the County Commissioners had stayed the course eight years ago, instead of cut, cut, cut, cut . . . "
"But now the sky is falling. And some of them aren't running again because they know they are going to have to raise taxes." Both Chairman Picerno and Commissioner Randy Saunders are not seeking re-election.
The Commissioners and Moore County Schools [MCS] argue that the way the state decides how many teachers the district needs in each grade is flawed.
Teachers are allocated based on the number of students in each grade countywide. But that does not take into consideration the number of teachers needed for each grade, in each school, in order to keep class sizes below target levels.
That's the way it looks from the local perspective, but Boles explained that it looks different from the state perspective.
"If you didn't have some control, why wouldn't Taylortown build a new school? Why wouldn't Seven Lakes build a new school? Why wouldn't Jackson Springs build a new school?"
"Why wouldn't every little town build a school? Why wouldn't every neighborhood want to have its own school?"
In other words, the state's formula for allocating teachers creates financial pressure for local school districts to build larger, more efficient schools. And MCS is, in fact, planning to build 850 student elementary schools, rather than the 600 students schools in its initial facilities plans.
"What are they doing now?" Boles said of MCS. "They are realizing that they need to consolidate from four elementary schools into two elementary schools."
"You have to build smart nowadays."
Sales tax allocations
A third point on which the Commissioners are peppering Boles and his colleagues with resolutions is the allocation of $84.8 million in new sales taxes, created by taxing services like auto and appliance repairs, which were not previously subject to sales tax.
That new revenue was not allocated evenly across all counties, but instead was divided among 79 of the state's 100 counties. Moore County was not among them.
Boles explained that what Moore County got in the budget deal was far better than what could have happened.
A key division in the legislature — and the state, he said, pits rural against urban counties. Last session, as the budget was hammered out, rural counties pushed for a completely new way of allocating local sales taxes. Currently, they are distributed based on the amount collected in each county. Rural counties wanted local taxes to instead be allocated based on population.
That would have hurt counties that serve as regional shopping destinations for surrounding counties — including Moore. The County and its municipalities would have seen a four percent reduction in sales tax receipts — nearly $700,000 in FY2017.
Instead, under the budget compromise that was eventually passed, Moore County saw no decrease in sales tax revenue.
Thinking like a state
Boles returned to the point that, as a North Carolina Representative, his duty is to represent Moore County, but also to represent the state as a whole. He suggested that others could benefit from taking that broader perspective.
"We have to get out of the silos," Boles said, "of thinking 'I'm just Moore County.' This is the state of North Carolina, and when one prospers, we all prosper."