Governor McCrory speaks out on Triad Today
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On Monday, Oct. 20, Governor Pat McCrory stopped by the ABC45 studios to tape a special edition of “Triad Today,” which was broadcast this past weekend. McCrory has been a frequent guest of the show, dating back to his tenure as Mayor of Charlotte, but on this visit, we focused much of our discussion on how the State has fared under his administration, and what he’s been able to accomplish in his first two years as our Chief Executive.
JL: Give us a comparison of economic indicators from the time you took office until now.
PM: When I came into office on Jan. 5 of 2013, our unemployment rate was the fifth highest in the country. We owed the federal government over $2.5 billion for unemployment compensation. The previous administration and legislature had a missed forecast of over $500 million on Medicaid. Those are the things we walked into. We’re reducing unemployment compensation debt now because we’ve reduced the amount of money given. It’s now equal to what South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia pay. We’re going to pay off the $2.5 billion debt within the next two years “” it’s below $600 million at this point in time. That’s a huge improvement. We’re getting off the credit card. We had the fifth highest rate of unemployment, now we’re around the 35th in the nation in unemployment. In fact, we’ve had the largest drop in unemployment of any state next to Florida.
JL: Most industry incentives don’t create new jobs, they only shift jobs from one locality to another. Have you begun to put more conditions on incentive packages?
PM: We’re putting a lot more conditions on them, and now we have a statistical assessment of every industry to determine if it’s sustainable.
I’m looking for long term, sustainable investment, not just a one-time hit for Longworth the next election. I’m looking for industries that will invest capital for the next 20, 30, to 50 years, not just for the next year. I’ve got a bias toward manufacturing because when you invest in manufacturing, that means you’re making something.
JL: But filmmaking is a clean industry that makes something, and yet you ended the existing incentives program in favor of offering grant money.
PM: The film industry is exciting.
I’ve been in three films myself when I was Mayor of Charlotte. I even received a residual from one of the movies.
JL: I hope you reported that to the IRS.
PM: I had to because I got a check for $7.35 last year.
JL: I’m going to look into that.
PM: The movie played in Spain, and I played the Mayor of Charlotte, which was a stretch (laughs). But what we’ve done for the film industry is we have a $10 million grant that’s available now. The last two years we spent $80 million cash on film incentives, and that’s something we don’t do for any other industry. Frankly, that’s where a lot of the money for teacher raises went.
JL: Speaking of education, what have you done and what are you doing to improve and transform public instruction in K-12?
PM: The first thing I did was demand that K-12, pre-K, community colleges and universities work as one team, not as four different silos. In fact, according to State statute, the four leaders were supposed to be meeting quarterly, and they had not met for four years.
Now I bring them together, and we’re starting to share budget information, seeing how we can share buildings, resources and technology. That had not been done in a long time. I convene every one of those meetings and haven’t missed a meeting, so we’re talking to each other now. We have no more silos.
We can’t afford it anymore. We’ve got to have teamwork, so I’m looking at education as a kindergarten through 20 process.
JL: Education helps to attract and create new jobs, and so does infrastructure. Tell me about your 25-year transportation plan.
PM: We’re still feeling the impact of President Eisenhower, even today, because of the highway system he built in the 1950’s connecting rural and urban, east and west. We’re now presenting a similar plan in North Carolina. We have a rail plan, a road plan, a communications plan and an energy plan.
And when I recruit industry now, I show them my 25-year transportation plan. When I was Mayor of Charlotte, I’d drive down certain highways and they would go from two lanes to eight lanes and back to two lanes, and it didn’t make any sense. What I realized is that wherever they were widest, they were named after a politician.
JL: Yeah, it’s called the Fat cat highway.
PM: (laughs) I would never call it that. I’ve got to be a little more politically correct.
JL: I don’t have to be PC.
PM: But where the roads were the widest, it was based on a political decision and not a decision based on traffic, economic development, and safety, and those are our three criteria.
JL: When you first took office, you called the State’s Medicaid system “a mess.” Where do we stand now?
PM: The system was bought by the previous administration, and they were supposed to turn it on six months prior to me coming into office, but they didn’t. When we turned it on, my secretary said, “We might have to go back to paper,” because they bought a system for which there is no backup, and without sufficient training. When we turned it on, it was working at about 75 percent capacity, and we caught heat for that. We’re now at 98 to 99 percent capacity.
DAN RIVER SPILL
JL: Speaking of taking a lot of heat, your critics were afraid you wouldn’t act swiftly to deal with Duke Energy after they spilled thousands of tons of coal ash into the Dan River.
PM: Yeah I saw a commercial the other day that said I did it “” that I caused the spill.
JL: But you had a relationship with Duke Energy from having worked there.
PM: They were like a family to me.
JL: So did that relationship make you reticent to be punitive with them?
PM: Absolutely not. In fact if anything, I knew what they did wrong because I used to work in engineering, and their engineering people didn’t do their job, and frankly the politicians before me didn’t do their job either. They even passed legislation in 2009 and 2010, which weakened some of the standards for coal ash.
JL: The high court says North Carolina cannot ban gays from marrying, but a lower court says the GOP can appeal. Do you continue to oppose gay marriage?
PM: Yes, but it’s my job to follow the law, and I’ll do just that and I won’t play games. We’ve already adjusted our forms and processes and procedures over the past several weeks to make it happen.
(The entire interview can be viewed on www.triadtoday.com. For more in- formation about policy initiatives, visit www.governor.state.nc.us/ ) !
JIM LONGWORTH is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11 a.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).