Gov. Pat McCrory sat down for a Q&A with businessman and alternative education entrepreneur Bob Luddy at the Conservative Leadership Conference dinner on Friday night. The governor echoed familiar themes without bending them to fit the varied agendas of those gathered at the two-day event in a North Raleigh hotel.
Relying again on his favorite phrase about not being afraid to step on toes, McCrory told the crowd of several hundred, “Some of the toes might even be some of the people in this room.”
Still, it was an enthusiastic crowd that responded with applause several times. Here are the highlights:
• Luddy: “Recently, Duke Power has suffered some perception issues. What is North Carolina going to do with these perception issues in terms of fracking, offshore drilling and becoming a major producer of energy?”
McCrory: “Well I’ve got to be frank: With Duke Energy’s coal ash spill it wasn’t a perception issue, it was reality. I’m not going to beat around the bush. That needs to be dealt with. We also have to understand that all energy has a negative impact and a positive impact, and we’ve got to balance each one of those, and that’s a fine line we’re all walking.”
McCrory said he hopes to get legislation passed in the short session allowing experimental drilling to test the feasibility of fracking (which received hearty applause), and he also wants to begin testing offshore drilling.
• Luddy asked if the state needs “a new delivery system” to reach underserved students. “I don’t believe in being called the transportation governor, the education governor, the jobs governor or the health-care governor – you name it, I’ve heard this in our history. I’m the governor. I don’t believe in setting your legacy before you accomplish anything.” (Strong applause line.)
McCrory said the state has to keep up with innovation in education, school choice is good, raising standards to provide more qualified employees and better teachers is also good.
• Asked about his hopes for the short session: “I want it to be short.” He said he wants a budget with a pay raise for teachers. The governor said he has been spending two or three hours a day reviewing every department's budget. Then he offered that he hopes for better relations with the legislature. “We made some mistakes last legislative process,” he said. “… My biggest challenge dealing with legislators is they think great ideas and they pass a bill but no one thinks about how do you execute it? That’s usually where my conflict comes in.”
McCrory also said he wants to change the state personnel policy so he can transfer employees more than 35 miles from their current assignments when necessary. “I have political appointments from 15 to 20 years ago I can’t get rid of,” he said.
• Luddy asked if North Carolina was likely to get rid of its income tax. McCrory cited tax updates and other financial changes accomplished in the past year that he says have paid off. He said he would consider that “down the road. But my fiscal responsibility is to make sure the budget is balanced.”