Smithfield: Opinion

A long, cautious speech

Gov. Pat McCrory’s 80-minute “State of the State” speech didn’t break much new ground. Instead, it laid the groundwork for a 2016 re-election campaign by mixing accomplishments of the past with broad goals for the future.

As he stood in the state House chamber, McCrory seemingly wasn’t speaking to the lawmakers, state officials, lobbyists and reporters who had gathered to hear the speech in person. Instead, he spoke to thousands of people watching on television who will go to the polls in 2016 to decide whether he deserves four more years. Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper is his likely challenger that November.

The Republican governor spent about the same amount of time recapping changes to state government in his first two years as he did laying out his agenda for the next two. And when he mentioned new initiatives, he didn’t provide particulars. He must work those out with Senate and House leaders in the coming months, and the devil’s always in the details.

Perhaps the most significant new proposal was a $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion bond to repair or replace dilapidated state buildings. That will save taxpayers money on maintenance and improve morale and productivity of state workers, McCrory said. He also repeated his desire for $1.2 billion in new spending to accelerate transportation projects across the state. The bonds are subject to approval by lawmakers and voters.

In his re-election campaign, McCrory is likely to repeatedly mention seeing through the construction of new roads and buildings, as those projects won’t happen overnight.

The first-term governor from Charlotte also reiterated calls for tax credits for historic preservation, like the ones that lawmakers let expire in 2014. And he repeated his wish for economic-development incentives to lure new employers to North Carolina.

In education, McCrory vowed to raise base teacher pay to $35,000 a year and reduce student testing to give teachers more time to teach.

Another new proposal would create a Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to fight for the survival of the state’s military bases and help ensure that returning war veterans are treated well and can find work.

McCrory also said he would submit proposals – again, he wasn’t specific – to help state corrections officers, who “have the most difficult job in North Carolina,” yet make only $28,000 to start. He cited an alarming statistic that a corrections officer was assaulted every 11 hours on average last year.

In his speech, the governor didn’t venture out on any limbs – large or small. We’ll have to wait and see how lawmakers respond to McCrory’s proposals as they get filed as bills or inserted in the governor’s state budget request, which is expected later this month.

Even the initiatives that might face tough scrutiny in the General Assembly – the historic preservation program, economic incentives and the bond proposals – have strong support outside the legislative complex.

A poll released right before the speech by the left-leaning Public Policy Polling found that 41 percent of state residents approved of the job McCrory is doing, while 45 percent disapprove.

My guess is that his speech won’t do much to move those numbers in either direction.

It was a very long – and cautious – state of the state.

Patrick Gannon writes about state government and politics.