McCrory agenda has strong points, but skips major needs

January 21, 2014 

Gov. Pat McCrory is pushing his 2014 agenda with a vigor true to the business-style boosterism he favors. In an unusual news conference, the governor brought out his entire Cabinet on Tuesday to introduce and explain his plans for the year ahead.

The governor did well to take this open and collegial approach on behalf of his administration’s agenda. It’s something he so far hasn’t done on behalf of the priorities of North Carolinians.

The governor’s agenda in 2013 was the narrow and divisive agenda of Republicans in the General Assembly. They reveled in having control of the legislature by ramming through a conservative wish list. McCrory did virtually nothing to soften the harsh effect of bills with the moderate approach he advertised during his campaign.

On Tuesday, though, the governor declared that all had gone wonderfully and that the state is poised for a second chapter of what he’s calling a “Carolina comeback.” These media events are by nature pep rallies for the administration, and the emphasis is on triumphs and celebration rather than on problems and candor. Still, McCrory would be more effective if he acknowledged that the last session was a politically bruising one that left the state divided and drew critical national coverage contrary to his pledge to improve the North Carolina “brand.”

In his positive portrayal, the governor made some issues clear by their absence. He started by naming the economy his No. 1 priority, as he should have. But his assessment of what it needs was discouragingly out of touch. He again distorted the drop in the state’s unemployment rate by citing business-friendly reductions in state taxes. The drop in the unemployment rate is a national trend due mostly to workers leaving the labor force. Addressing that shrinkage rather than waving statistical illusions is what is needed.

Elsewhere on the economic front, the governor continued his odd fixation on energy exploration as the key to improving the state’s economy. With abundant natural gas flowing from fracking in other states, the natural gas price is likely too low to support fracking in North Carolina. And the governor’s push for offshore drilling seems a prospect so unknown and so far off as to be irrelevant to the state’s economy. What he should be talking about is boosting the state’s growing renewable energy industry.

The governor spoke again about his 25-year plan for transportation improvements. That’s fine, but it would sound more feasible if it also came with a commitment to spend more to make it happen.

The governor said that keeping military spending and bases in North Carolina would be a priority and that he wants to get veterans jobs here. That’s a good intention, but the Republican-driven sequester hasn’t helped. Meanwhile, the state could do more to help unemployed veterans living in homeless camps not far from their former bases.

McCrory promised to seek a raise for public school teachers, but he hardly could do otherwise. Teacher pay is near the bottom in the nation, and teachers are in revolt over legislative actions that put tax breaks for the wealthy and businesses ahead of funding for public education.

As for the poor and uninsured, McCrory once more indulged in his specious argument that the poor would be badly served if the state expanded Medicaid before the system is overhauled. How is he protecting them by denying them insurance? The system, even if it needs changes, could be simultaneously expanded and changed. One does not preclude the other.

It was good for the governor to lay out his agenda in a setting open to questions. Perhaps more questioning in the months ahead will get his priorities to better fit the needs of North Carolina.

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