McCrory says NC should have 'best of everything' in State of the State

Published February 5, 2015

by Mark Binker, WRAL, February 4, 2015.

Gov. Pat McCrory outlined a laundry list of priorities and wishes Wednesday evening that he said would make North Carolina a national model for both its big-city opportunities and its small-town charm.

In an 80-minute State of the State address to the General Assembly, McCrory focused on the state's economic, educational and infrastructure needs, noting that North Carolina has made gains in his first two years in office but still has work to do.

"My vision of North Carolina is to have the best of everything," he said. "We have the best of both Mayberry and Metropolis right here in North Carolina. When we unleash our resources in education, transportation, energy and technology and commit to greater government efficiency and affordability, our state will be second to nobody."

McCrory listed five priorities for his administration and lawmakers over the next two years:

  • Creating jobs for all who want one
  • Providing all students and adults looking for new careers with the needed skills
  • Connecting the state's rural and urban areas through both highways and Internet access.
  • Upgrading the state's health and public safety sectors.
  • Improving government efficiency

Noting the global competition for jobs, he urged lawmakers to provide him with more tools to recruit new and expanding businesses to North Carolina and to restore the historic preservation tax credit so cities and towns could redevelop blighted sections of their downtowns. He also plans to appoint a task force to find ways to attract more food processing plants to help the state's agriculture industry.

"A key part of any quality jobs plan and quality of life plan is quality education," he said.

McCrory said he's committed to following through on the promise made last year to raise starting teacher salaries in the state to $35,000 annually, and he will push to reduce the amount of mandated tests in schools by next year. He also wants to streamline teacher certification to get qualified instructors in state classrooms.

"We want and should be encouraging accomplished people who want to join the teaching profession," he said. "Bureaucracy should never, never stand between their talents and our children's needs."

In delivering the Democratic response to McCrory's speech, House Minority Leader Larry Hall said more needs to be done for teachers and others in the middle class.

"Too many families here in North Carolina are still living paycheck to paycheck," said Hall, D-Durham. "Now is the time to focus on building an economy that works for everyone, not just the very wealthy and a chosen few."

Hall said teachers shouldn't have to buy their own classroom supplies and students shouldn't have to use outdated textbooks and other materials.

"We have great teachers, and we must give them the support they deserve," he said. "It’s time to stop asking our students and teachers to do more with less year after year after year."

The governor reiterated his call for a $1.2 billion bond to pay for a couple dozen infrastructure projects in the rural areas of the state to boost economic development.

"That is our goal, to connect with each other," he said. "These connections will make it easier for people to travel to jobs, to travel to their schools and hospitals and our parks."

Because the state has more infrastructure needs than a single bond issue can handle and because the gas tax isn't providing the revenue it once did for the Highway Trust Fund, he said he would work with lawmakers to find new funding sources for road construction and maintenance.

Maintenance of state buildings also needs to receive more attention, McCrory said, noting too many are functionally obsolete or underused.

"We have structures all over the state that are a blight to North Carolina's Main Streets," he said. "The shape they're in is an embarrassment."

So, he proposed another bond of $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion to upgrade state buildings and other facilities. That idea caught lawmakers off guard and met with some skepticism.

"That's more than we've been talking about and more than we had heard talked about up until now," Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said. "There's a lot of issues we'll have to deal with."

"I think we've got to look at that very, very carefully. We want to maintain our AAA bond rating," said Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham. "We've got to do something; we've got to spend. It's just what can we afford? How far can we go?"

Another issue McCrory addressed that caught lawmakers' attention was Medicaid reform.

The governor said he wants a "patients-first philosophy" in physician-led reform that will cut costs by focusing on preventive medicine and reducing unneeded tests and services. McCrory and lawmakers have tussled with Medicaid reform for more than a year, with some backing his call for physician control and others wanting to turn oversight to managed care companies.

"Last session, we came close to passing Medicaid reform, but progress stalled on the 1-yard line," he said, making a Super Bowl joke. "Let's not take another pass this year. Let's run it up the middle and win a victory for families across North Carolina."

Any plan to expand Medicaid coverage to thousands of uninsured residents statewide must "protect North Carolina taxpayers" and "require personal and financial responsibility" for the newly insured.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Aldona Wos said McCrory's proposal is "not exactly" Medicaid expansion as allowed under the Affordable Care Act, although the state would accept the federal funding tied to such expansions.

"What we're proposing is something different," Wos said. "It's providing health care to the uninsured, an opportunity for that."

Berger said he's made it clear he wants no part of any growth in the state's Medicaid program, and House Majority Leader Mike Hager likewise rejected McCrory's idea.

"Until we get it controlled, I'm not a big fan of expanding what we have," said Hager, R-Rutherford.

Wos said any action wouldn't come before the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the validity of government subsidies for coverage in North Carolina and other states that didn't create their own online exchanges. A decision isn't expected until late spring.

In the realm of government efficiency, McCrory proposed reorganizing some agencies, such as shifting the state zoo and aquariums from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to the Department of Cultural Resources. He also called for creating two cabinet-level departments to handle issues that cut across various agencies now: the Department of Information Technology and the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

"Let us work together to achieve the best for everyone everywhere in North Carolina," he said.