In State of the State, fearless McCrory says he may fluster both parties
Gov. Pat McCrory said in a speech Monday night that his new administration would focus on public education, improving the state's economy and making government more efficient. He also said he won't be afraid to fluster people from both parties.
Sticking to themes and a bipartisan approach that carried him to victory three months ago, the former Charlotte mayor also said during his first State of the State address that North Carolina is no longer going to take federal money without knowing how to pay it back.
McCrory, a Republican, was referring to the $2.5 billion that the state owes the federal government for unemployment benefits. He said he would sign a bill Tuesday that would accelerate the debt repayment by raising taxes and cutting jobless benefits.
"This will ensure our citizens' unemployment safety net is secured and financially sound for future generations," he said to cheers during his 45-minute televised address to a joint session of the Republican-dominated General Assembly. "Borrowing from Washington with no idea or plan on how to pay for it ends with this administration right now. "We're not going to do (that) any longer."
McCrory also said North Carolina has fallen behind when it comes to economic recruitment with other states and needs to be refreshed. He said a top-to-bottom review of the state's economic development assets is a priority. He reiterated his principles for a tax overhaul, saying he would work toward leveraging the state's military presence to expand the defense industry and promote export growth.
"We cannot accept the status quo," he said to an audience that included members of the Council of State, his Cabinet and appeals court members. "We cannot live off of a brand that needs updating and a major revamping."
McCrory, the state's first Republican governor in 20 years, delivered his address after about 6½ weeks in office. He signed his first bill into law earlier Monday — high school reform legislation that's supposed to re-validate vocational education alongside college prep.
"I firmly believe in this that there are two pathways to success," McCrory said during the speech.
In addition to the unemployment insurance bill now on his desk, McCrory also has come out against expanding Medicaid, mostly with federal funds, in 2014 to cover an estimated 500,000 uninsured state residents and for letting the federal government, not the state, develop an online health insurance marketplace. The federal health care overhaul gives states the option on both initiatives.
His support of the unemployment insurance and health care legislation has angered Democratic lawmakers and their allies. They say McCrory is refusing federal assistance while North Carolina's 9.2 percent unemployment remains the fifth-highest in the country and about 1.5 million people remain without health insurance.
"So the question becomes at what point does Gov. McCrory stand up to this radical, reactionary legislature and side with you the hard-working taxpaying citizens of this state," state Democratic Party Chairman Randy Voller said before McCrory's address.
McCrory said he's stepped on the toes of people on both the left and right.
"I am not doing it to cause pain, but to get us to stand up and recognize we must solve our serious problems now to prevent pain for future generations," he said.
In a response taped before McCrory's speech, House Minority Leader Larry Hall, D-Durham, said Democrats wouldn't support tax reform that expands sales taxes to cover more services when corporate and individual income taxes also are cut. And while McCrory campaigned on public education reform, Hall said "we must, however, make sure that reform is not just a code word for continuing to cut more and more from our schools.
Republicans, who now hold two-thirds of the seats in the legislature, were pleased with the remarks of their new ally in the Executive Mansion. Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, said he welcomed McCrory's comments about making the state welcoming to business and economic growth.
"I think Gov. McCrory hit a home run with that one," Rucho said.
McCrory asked legislators to pass legislation that would restore money for drug treatment courts and increase punishments for people who make methamphetamines. He also said the Department of Public Safety would work with local law enforcement to fight drug "cartel rings" that he said are in North Carolina. Authorities "must get them out of the state," he said.
He also asked lawmakers to give school districts flexibility to use North Caroilna Education Lottery funds for school technology and virtual learning and said money should be shifted away from what he called the "bloated and frankly annoying" lottery advertising and administrative costs to education. State law limits lottery advertising expenses to no more than 1 percent of total lottery revenues.