Adding it up in governor’s race

A ‘business-friendly’ stamp of approval has lessons for N.C. candidates and voters.

November 2, 2012 

One of the most repeated phrases in Republican campaigns from the courthouse to the North Carolina governor’s mansion on Raleigh’s Blount Street has been something like, “We have to be more business-friendly if we are going to compete with other states.” Oh, the justification is breathless: The state is getting killed by the low taxes and lack of regulation in neighboring states. Without action, there will be dire consequences indeed.

Yet North Carolina has long been ranked as one of the nation’s most business-friendly states with the taxes and the regulations it has in place – and no doubt with other amenities such as a good educational system and good work ethic. Just this week, Site Selection magazine out of Atlanta ranked North Carolina as first in the nation in a list of states with the top business climate. First. And the tax burden for business is a factor in the rankings.

To hear Republicans, including McCrory, tell it, however, the state is so unfriendly to business it’s a wonder all the businesses in the world don’t get together and put Tar Heelia on a pulpwood truck and send it to Texas.

McCrory, in fact, has made cutting taxes and regulation for business the cornerstone of his campaign. He wants offshore drilling for oil and gas. And he wants these things in the name of improving what’s admittedly a slow-moving economy.

Another proposal: cutting individual taxes as well. But the former Charlotte mayor is vague on what he’d do to replace revenue, or where he’d cut on the spending side to keep the state budget balanced.

Opponent Walter Dalton, a former six-term legislator and now the Democratic lieutenant governor, won’t be accused of going short on explanation. His briefing papers detailing his positions on the economy and other issues are close to voluminous, at least as far as position papers go. It reflects an interest in detail, and a knowledge that there is a long road between promises and action.

Dalton, endorsed earlier by The News & Observer editorial page, is not so enamored of massive tax cuts, though he’s certainly no high-tax advocate. He’s been in the General Assembly long enough to know the heavy lifting it takes to balance a budget. He knows also that the state has to quit cutting education funding as legislative Republicans have done if the state is to continue to attract new jobs.

In voting for legislative candidates and Council of State members in addition to the more high-profile governor’s race, North Carolinians will be setting the state’s course in ways beyond political philosophy. They’ll determine, for example, who will manage state finances (the treasurer) and who will oversee and report on how agencies perform (the state auditor). These offices and others may not be at the top of the ballot, but they rank highly in importance.

So in casting ballots, voters do need to be, in one sense, all business.

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