Few have ever compared the State of the State address in North Carolina, no matter which governor was giving it, to the soaring rhetoric presidents seek in their State of the Union speeches.
That’s perhaps to be expected and Gov. Pat McCrory’s address Wednesday night met that low standard. He didn’t inspire much hope for helping the middle class in this state and included virtually no substantial new ideas. For a long 80-minute address, McCrory simply didn’t bring much to the table.
He spoke in front of a General Assembly that seems to delight in ignoring the governor, though he is a member of the majority’s Republican Party. Sen. Phil Berger, president pro tem of his chamber and the state’s most powerful lawmaker, offered a perfunctory thanks to the governor for “sharing his vision for continuing to move North Carolina forward.”
But Berger and his mates have paid little heed to anything the governor says or does, and North Carolina, under their leadership, has been moving anywhere but forward. The state’s jobless rate is down, but that’s somewhat artificial because so many people have taken themselves out of the job market, simply giving up on finding work in the aftermath of the Great Recession. And Republicans have cut important regulations and funding for public education. They’ve resisted an expansion of Medicaid, which under the Affordable Care Act would benefit several hundred thousand of their fellow citizens.
And they cut unemployment benefits, hurting middle-class families who are on the economic edge through no fault of their own.
There was a painful irony as well in that on the same day McCrory was trying to put a positive light on his lackluster administration, North Carolina was again taking a pounding across the nation for the over-the-top conservatism McCrory has embraced. This time the ridicule centered on comments made by Thom Tillis, the former House speaker and newly elected U.S. senator. Tillis said in an interview that forcing restaurants to require employees to wash their hands after using the bathroom is a burdensome regulation. As McCrory tried to polish North Carolina’s image, the state’s junior senator was making the state look foolish.
Mostly, McCrory’s speech was about the same old, same old. He wants to create jobs. He wants to raise beginning teacher pay to $35,000. He wants to issue bonds to start transportation projects and renovate state buildings in disrepair. One critic noted, correctly, that the governor spent more time talking about “a broken fountain on the Capitol grounds in Raleigh than he did the condition of our dwindling textbooks or any classrooms in our public schools.”
Governors must inspire. They must lead. They must have an agenda but, more than that, a plan to fulfill that agenda.
Backing off Medicaid
The governor even seems to have retreated in one area where it was hoped his leadership might make a difference. At one time, the governor appeared to support a version of Medicaid expansion, which would be paid in full by the federal government for three years and to the tune of 90 percent thereafter.
But now he speaks of expansion hesitantly, talking about how any expansion “must protect North Carolina taxpayers.” This is a good example of where the governor’s rhetoric simply ignores reality: Taxpayers aren’t at risk if the federal government is paying all the costs. In addition, the expansion of Medicaid would create thousands of jobs here at home to administer it.
The governor and Republican lawmakers also conveniently ignore one problem they helped to create with excessive tax cutting to benefit business and mostly the wealthy. That is, tax collections are $200 million below what was projected for this fiscal year, and, according to the legislature’s own staff, net tax and nontax revenues are $475 million below where they were in the same period last year.
But the governor and GOP lawmakers don’t seem to want to discuss that.