House Speaker Tim Moore said Tuesday that his chamber’s economic development bill wouldn’t have provided enough incentive money to beat South Carolina for a Volvo car manufacturing plant.
Moore’s comments at an N.C. Chamber meeting contrasted with Commerce Secretary John Skvarla’s take on the Volvo announcement. Skvarla said Monday he didn’t think North Carolina “was ever in the game” to recruit Volvo because the legislature hasn’t yet passed incentives.
Moore pointed out that South Carolina is providing incentives worth $200 million to $300 million. “If House Bill 117 were passed into law, North Carolina would not have been able to match that,” he said.
That incentives proposal – backed by Gov. Pat McCrory – passed the House in March but has been stuck in the Senate Finance Committee for weeks. Moore questioned whether states should spend up to $300 million to attract a company making a $500 million investment.
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“That math doesn’t add up in my book, and under any scenario, I don’t think we would be able to do that,” he said.
Speaking to the Chamber shortly before Moore, McCrory said he expects legislators to approve an economic development bill within two weeks. The governor said he had lunch Tuesday with Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger and brought up the issue.
“There was agreement that we need to pass an N.C. Competes bill,” McCrory said. “I expect action within the next two weeks in the Senate – and that’s very good news.”
The governor said North Carolina must be able to win companies over other neighboring states. “They are tough competitors, and they’re going for jobs just like we are in North Carolina,” he said.
McCrory also said his $3 billion bond proposal will address other needs for attracting an automaker – something that’s long been a goal for his administration.
The infrastructure bond package includes funding to upgrade state ports in Wilmington and Morehead City.
“If we’re going to be a serious commerce player, we’ve got to have viable ports in Wilmington and Morehead City,” he said, adding that rail improvements are also needed. “If we’re going to get a major automotive company, we’re going to need a major railroad line.”
Also speaking at the Chamber meeting, Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, a Raleigh Democrat, offered a different take on North Carolina’s failure to land an automaker.
The Volvo news, he said, “begs the question, is the direction that we are taking education in North Carolina part of the reason we did not secure one of these manufacturers?”
Berger on budget
Senate leader Phil Berger outlined his budget priorities for the year:
▪ End transfer of highway tax dollars to budget items that aren’t related to transportation. “There’s still well over $200 million that comes out of our highway fund into the general fund, and we need to stop that this year,” he said.
▪ Double the state’s reserve funds, which Berger said are “severely underfunded.”
▪ Set aside $350 million for a Medicaid reform package.
▪ Increase starting teacher pay to $35,000.
▪ Cut taxes, including a switch to single sales factor apportionment for corporate taxes, which would effectively favor companies with extensive property and payroll taxes.
Berger said further cuts shouldn’t be limited to businesses. “Now is the time to focus on cutting the personal income tax significantly,” he said.