Like all political candidates, Pat McCrory made many promises in his campaign. Now comes the hard part.
A review of dozens of speeches and interviews from McCrory’s successful campaign revealed three top policy initiatives: revamp the tax code, step up energy exploration and foster job creation.
His other priorities included improvements to the education system, long-term transportation planning, a customer-service mindset and more transparency in state government.
A number of the Republican’s proposals are under way in the current administration, but experts suggest other pledges will prove difficult to fulfill.
One of them is McCrory’s idea to cut corporate and personal income tax rates. The N.C. General Assembly has commissioned numerous studies in the past decade and made little progress.
“The irony is there is a broad consensus” to reform the system, said Alexandra Sirota, a policy analyst at the liberal N.C. Justice Center. “But in practice it is very difficult to maneuver through all the different interests.”
At the same time, much of McCrory’s agenda remains undefined.
In the campaign, he offered few details and no road map for his platform. And last week, in his first days as governor-elect, he sidestepped frequent questions about his policy positions.
“Right now, I’m not going to discuss specific policy issues,” McCrory told reporters in Raleigh.
McCrory appointed a transition team last week that will begin to assemble his agenda and tackle the chief issues, including economic development, taxes and transportation.
“This team will be hiring people to look at certain policy issues and make the transition as easy as possible and work with members of the legislature,” he said.
State lawmakers and the public will expect the governor-elect to chart a more detailed course in the days ahead, political observers said. But his vagueness so far is a political calculation.
“He took the approach of aspirations instead of specifics,” said John Dinan, a political science expert at Wake Forest University. “The more you take pretty clear positions on contentious issues, the more you raise the possibility of upsetting people.”
McCrory will get help on a few campaign pledges from the current administration. The state transportation board adopted a new plan earlier this year for roads and bridges that looks 25 years in to the future, as the McCrory campaign wanted. Likewise, his goal to emphasize technical and vocational education is a current focus for the state’s community colleges.
But the tax plan is a bigger hurdle. McCrory wants to make the state’s tax rates competitive with its neighbors. North Carolina’s 6.9 percent corporate tax rate is the fifth highest in the Southeast and the personal income tax – ranging from 6 to 7.75 percent – is the highest.
At their current levels, McCrory believes they hurt the state’s ability to recruit companies and unduly burden existing businesses, although Democrats point to business rankings with North Carolina at the top.
Both liberal and conservative economic analysts agree that the current system is over-reliant on personal income taxes and too vulnerable to economic swings.
The biggest obstacle is finding revenue to offset any cuts in the tax rates, particularly the personal income tax, which generates about $10 billion in revenue. That’s half the state budget.
Options include eliminating some of the many existing tax exemptions and broadening the base to add a levy on services or items not currently subject to a tax. But the tax breaks are all protected by special interests that helped elect him.
“It’s going to take some political will and courage to tune out all those special-interest groups,” said Brian Balfour, a fiscal policy analyst at the conservative Civitas Institute.
Different type of job
As Charlotte’s mayor for 14 years, McCrory made a number of controversial proposals. His biggest policy initiatives included a referendum to pay for a mass transit system with a sales tax hike and a plan to build a downtown basketball arena once rejected by a non-binding public referendum.
Speaking to reporters last week, the governor-elect said he would bring “a mayor’s attitude to the executive branch.”
But even with Charlotte’s size, the job as mayor is much different than governor, which speaks to the learning curve he faces in his first full-time public-sector position. McCrory worked as an executive at Duke Energy but never led a major enterprise, particularly one that makes daily decisions affecting people’s lives.
The mayoral position is a part-time job, and the mayor only voted on city council matters in case of a tie, though McCrory did have veto power. Charlotte’s city manager served as the chief executive.
“Technically, the mayor is a legislative position,” said Eric Heberlig, a political science professor at UNC-Charlotte. “Where being governor is really an executive position.”
But McCrory’s strongest skill, Heberlig added, is his ability to convince others to support his vision.
“He’s used to dealing with the media,” he said, “so he’s certainly capable of communicating his agenda and selling the public on it.”