State Politics

January 20, 2014

In first year, McCrory makes progress on campaign promises

About one year after his inauguration, The News & Observer revisits five main goals Gov. Pat McCrory set during his campaign. His approval rating is low, but much of his legislative agenda is moving forward and he is touting the state's improving economy.

Gov. Pat McCrory starts the second year of his term on uneven ground.

The Republican’s first year was marked by repeated controversies in his administration and a hot-button legislative session that led to contentious decisions on abortion, immigration and elections. His approval rating among voters in January is 37 percent, eight points lower than where he started a year ago.

But at the same time, much of his legislative agenda is moving forward and McCrory is touting the state’s improving economy.

Soon after his election, The News & Observer looked at five main goals McCrory set during his campaign: lower unemployment, cut taxes, join an offshore drilling coalition, implement an infrastructure plan and increase accessibility.

Through his first year, McCrory’s record is mixed. Here’s a look:

Goal: “My goal is to be beating our neighboring states” in terms of unemployment.

Analysis: In the campaign, McCrory said he expected to see North Carolina’s unemployment rate fall lower than its neighbors’ rates at the end of his four-year term and beat South Carolina after his first year in office.

So far, the state’s unemployment rate is improving. But South Carolina remains better.

When McCrory entered office last January, the North Carolina jobless rate stood at 9.5 percent, the fourth-worst in the country.

Since then it has declined steadily, dropping to 7.4 percent in November, the latest data available, a five-year low. North Carolina’s rate is now tied for 15th-worst.

South Carolina’s unemployment rate in November stood at 7.1 percent, and Virginia is at 5.4 percent.

Nevertheless, McCrory is championing the improvements. He is calling this 2.1 percentage-point drop the “Great Carolina Comeback.” But others question his assessment, pointing to the decline in the state’s labor force. From November 2012 to November 2013, employed workers increased just .1 percent.

Economic experts say the state’s economy in the short term is at the mercy of national and global forces, for the most part. The state can help create jobs with a big government spending program but otherwise federal policy changes will largely dictate the direction of the state’s rate going forward.

Status: In progress

Goal: “If I have an opportunity to reduce a tax, the first tax I will reduce is the income tax.”

Analysis: One of the governor’s major policy achievements in his first year is a tax-cut package.

After working with Republican lawmakers for months, McCrory signed into law a bill that trims the state’s personal income tax to a flat 5.8 percent in January and lowers it again to 5.75 percent in 2015. Under the previous three-tiered system, people paid 6, 7 or 7.5 percent depending on income.

The corporate tax rate falls to 6 percent this year from 6.9 percent, with another reduction to 5 percent planned in 2015.

To make it happen, McCrory did break a campaign pledge to keep his tax cut revenue-neutral. The tax cut package will limit future state spending by more than $2 billion in the next five years.

Status: Fulfilled

Goal: “I want to ... implement a 25-year plan for infrastructure to show our business community and our citizens exactly how we plan to invest their hard-earned tax dollars.”

Analysis: McCrory campaigned calling himself an “Eisenhower Republican,” a reference to the former president’s focus on infrastructure that the governor emulated as Charlotte mayor.

The N.C. Department of Transportation is still developing a document that will express the McCrory administration’s priorities, but it will not include a list of prioritized projects.

The work is building on efforts in former Gov. Bev Perdue’s administration to develop a 2040 statewide transportation plan, as required by the federal government, and other assessments conducted in recent years. DOT officials said more details are expected in a couple of months.

Status: In progress

Goal: “We’re going to form a coalition (with Virginia and South Carolina) and share that revenue” from offshore oil and gas drilling.

Analysis: McCrory announced in February that he joined the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition to push for offshore oil and natural gas drilling along with the governors of South Carolina and Virginia. He is preparing to become chairman of the coalition soon.

The post will put him in a good position to advocate for offshore drilling, but much remains uncertain as to whether the states can drill and develop a revenue-sharing compact.

The federal government holds the keys. It must approve any drilling leases. McCrory said last week he is setting up a February meeting with the U.S. Energy Department to ask it to allow seismic testing, a step needed to drill exploratory wells.

Status: In progress

Goal: Would you hold regularly scheduled news conferences? “Absolutely.”

Analysis: After criticizing his predecessor for not being transparent, McCrory made it clear he wanted to be accessible as governor.

To this point, he pledged to hold regular news conferences to communicate with the public. In a meeting with N&O reporters and editors on Oct. 16, 2012, McCrory said he would meet with reporters at least twice a month.

McCrory has had some limited press availability at public appearances around the state. Occasionally, he’ll take a question or two from the press after his monthly meetings with the Council of State. He held news conferences at major points during the year, for instance when he announced new initiatives, debuted his budget proposal and signed significant legislation, but they not occur on a regular basis.

Status: Not fulfilled

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