One on one with Pat McCrory

by Jim Longworth

A few days ago I taped a special edition of “Triad Today” with seven-term Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory as the sole guest. McCrory was also the 2008 GOP nominee for governor, losing to Bev Perdue by the narrowest of margins. Since then he has been in demand as a speaker, appearing at high-profile events around the country, such as the upcoming Regional Transportation Summit being hosted by PART.

During our 30-minute conversation, we covered a wide range of topics, beginning with the controversial new law that will allow multistate corporations in North Carolina to pay their taxes in another state. That boneheaded legislation will cost our state $500 million initially, and nearly $100 million every year thereafter. In spite of this, the General Assembly rushed the bill through, the governor signed it, then they said it would have to be tweaked later.

McCrory: You should never pass legislation that has to be tweaked at a later point. This is where some of the hypocrisy is. This past week, the governor was bragging about the tax free holiday of sales tax, but it was five weeks ago when she was arguing for an increase in the sales tax. We need to give a consistent message in North Carolina about what our tax policy is. When I ran for governor last time, I said if I could cut any tax, it would not be the sales tax, it would be the income tax, because it’s the income tax that small businesses have to pay. A lot of our entrepreneurs are now moving to Florida, Tennessee and to South Carolina.

I then asked Pat to comment on the General Assembly’s refusal to extend the temporary one-cent sales tax, which could have prevented public-sector layoffs.

McCrory: A promise was made both by the governor and the legislature when they passed that tax. They said it would be a temporary tax. And if we say something is a temporary tax, then it should be. So the legislature fulfilled their promise, and the governor broke a promise after only a year and a half. And I also think there was a little “cry wolf” in how much impact the budget that was passed had, because the governor’s budget and the legislative budget was less than 2 percent difference. And in fact, the legislative budget that the governor vetoed had more money in it than last year’s budget, and more money than Perdue’s budget for K-12. Look at Mecklenburg County who all of a sudden is saying, “Well, we’re not laying off the teachers we thought we were.” So I think we need to be careful in government to cry wolf and say we’re going to have this tremendous impact, when in fact there is a lot of hidden money out there.

I suggested to McCrory that North Carolina should have a Rainy-Day Fund to draw from in times of financial crisis, and he agreed.

McCrory: Absolutely. In fact as mayor for 14 years, I had a huge Rainy-Day Fund and I refused to let it be raided. That’s why the current mayor of Charlotte is not in that much difficulty because I never raided the Rainy Day Fund. We kept building it, and a lot of people kept wanting to get to that $18 million, but I refused to let them touch it.

An advocate for mass transit and alternate forms of transportation, McCrory spearheaded Charlotte’s successful light-rail system, and today is sought after as an expert on transportation policy. I naturally assumed, then, that he was in lock step with his GOP buddy Ray LaHood, now President Obama’s Secretary of Transportation. McCrory set me straight.

McCrory: I think the Obama administration went for the “little bang” theory on transportation. I stood up in the White House a year and a half ago, and said, “Eisenhower built highways, Roosevelt built dams and we’re filling potholes which have no sustainability.” Obama only put 10 percent of the $1 trillion stimulus money into infrastructure, so we have nothing to show for the money we spent, and it didn’t even end up helping the economy. I would have put 90 percent of that money into infrastructure, roads, bridges and transit.

The “Triad Today” special airs this Friday morning at 6:30 a.m. on ABC45, and again Sunday night at 10 p.m. on My48. It will also include discussions on economic development, the pros and cons of incentives, the nasty nature of politics in America and McCrory’s expected second run for governor. By the way, Perdue is also speaking at next month’s Transportation Summit. It will be their first nearly joint appearance in four years, and a chance for Pat to see if he has the momentum to run Bev out of Raleigh on a high-speed rail.

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).