Gov. McCrory's fuzzy vision needs work

February 19, 2013 

With a smile and the asset of an easy delivery that was just imperfect enough to be appealing, Gov. Pat McCrory made a well-received debut before a General Assembly audience overwhelmingly dominated by fellow Republicans in his Monday State of the State address. But if the governor’s address was meant to explain his vision for North Carolina, it needed bifocals. The details in the fine print were few, and the long-term goals were fuzzy.

The governor hit a couple of themes that should appeal to all North Carolinians. That’s a welcome aspect in such a speech because divisions widened in an election need to be narrowed.

He advocated, for example, the re-establishment of drug courts to help offenders avoid the criminal justice system. This is a good idea the governor humanized by pointing to “two heroes” from the Durham Rescue Mission, Mike and Rebekah Allred, whom he said had beaten addictions and turned their lives around.

The only thing is...Republicans cut money for the drug courts in 2011 and some of them had to shut down.

Not a business

Then there was the governor’s strong stated support of public education, underlined by his desire to convene the Education Cabinet, in which leaders of education from kindergarten through universities gather to set strategies and goals. It’s a good idea if North Carolina is to give more of its young people a pathway to higher education, if dropout rates are to be reduced and graduation rates raised.

But...Republicans cut money for a coordinator for the Education Cabinet.

While McCrory’s contention since his first campaign for governor in 2008 has been that state government is “broken,” most of the breaks he has cited have been relatively minor. That’s not to say his Department of Transportation under former Wake schools Superintendent Tony Tata didn’t do a good job responding to problems with a toll road, which it did, or that McCrory’s push for less lottery money to be spent on advertising and administration, with the savings going to school technology, isn’t right. It is.

But the governor will find as his four years proceed that the breezy business terms he applies to governing, such as “brand,” “product” and “customers” go only to a point. State government efficiency might indeed be able to improve by employing some ideas from the private sector and department heads should be open to them, but the truth is that government is not a business. Governments have to serve people first, and that means not just issuing driver’s licenses, but helping communities rebuild after disasters.

People in need

It means investment in infrastructure (something McCrory advocates) and other needs that aren’t necessarily going to have a “quick return.”

And sometimes, it means investment in people. If there was one part of McCrory’s address that demonstrated a failure to connect with the reality many thousands of North Carolinians are facing, it was his promise to sign (he did it Tuesday) a foolish and cruel measure passed by the General Assembly lowering the maximum unemployment benefit and shortening the time unemployed North Carolinians can receive benefits.

This is going to be disastrous for many families, but the governor and his GOP legislature seem oblivious. Basically, in changing its unemployment payments, the state is passing up $780 million in benefits the federal government would have paid to extend payments to unemployed North Carolinians, at no cost to the state.

Legislators argued that the state needs to pay back the $2.5 billion it owes the federal government for money borrowed to cover jobless benefits necessitated by the Great Recession and its aftermath. True enough, but what this action really is about is saving businesses $21 per worker, per year, an unemployment tax surcharge of sorts, that the employers would have to pay until that $2.5 billion is clear. By cutting benefits,. the debt will be paid earlier, but only three years earlier. Meanwhile, families will struggle.

As McCrory said early on in his speech, “too many people are hurting.” But actions such as the one on unemployment and the decision to reject the federal government’s willingness to cover more people under Medicaid , Republicans in Raleigh are adding to the pain.

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