One-on-one with the governor
Gov. Pat McCrory, whose boyhood roots reach to Jamestown and Guilford County, took time Tuesday morning for an interview with The High Point Enterprise on topics ranging from the upcoming end of extended unemployment benefits to a recent dustup over McCrory throwing a baseball that coincided with a demonstration at the state Capitol.
The governor’s office contacted the Enterprise Monday afternoon and offered the opportunity for a 10-minute, one-on-one phone interview. An aide to the governor said McCrory is doing interviews with newspapers and media outlets outside the beltway of the capital in Raleigh and the Research Triangle.
Here’s a transcript of the interview with McCrory, who became the first Republican governor in 20 years when he took office six months ago. The former mayor of Charlotte moved to Jamestown from Ohio with his family when he was a child. His first elected office was more than 40 years ago when he became student body class president at Ragsdale High School.
Q. What are your current thoughts about the end of extended unemployment benefits on July 1? Are you at all considering asking the Republican leadership of the N.C. General Assembly, at the last minute, to change that and extend it further?
A. No, because that would just extend our debt. What I’m doing is, I’m going to cut the credit card. Because, frankly, (former Democratic) Gov. (Beverly) Perdue accepted over $2.6 billion in debt, which we haven’t paid back to the federal government. And the president hasn’t forgiven that debt. Unless the president forgives our debt, I don’t see how we can extend it. And if we extended the unemployment, the administration (of President Barack Obama) wouldn’t let us adjust our rate of unemployment benefits to make it competitive with our neighboring states.
Our unemployment benefits are in the top 10 percentile of the nation, and it’s being paid by debt. What I’m hoping to do is get people off of unemployment and create new jobs.
Q. Do you have any interim plan for folks or recommendations for folks who would lose their unemployment benefits starting next month? Are you, through other agencies, trying to help them in another way?
A. Yes. We started communications with them in the last four weeks, if they had not heard. And these are people that have been on unemployment a long time.
We are setting up work force centers, we have resume help, we have job search services. We’re notifying every one of them so they’re not surprised. I have empathy for them, we want to help them. But we need to get them back in jobs, and also some we need to get accepting jobs that have been offered, frankly.
Q. On the state budget, what is your current thinking on the House and Senate plans and what are the goals they are proposing that you agree with and that you have problems with, sir?
A. There are some things in each plan that I am having issues with. In the House plan, there are some transportation issues where they took some cuts of $100 million or so on staff for job openings we haven’t filled yet. These are basic job openings such as for people who are filling in potholes and so forth.
On the Senate plan, I’m more concerned about the numbers adding up. I’m having very honest accounting on our numbers. Last year’s budget signed by the governor (Perdue) I don’t think was a true balanced budget because we didn’t include the Medicaid cost overruns. The Medicaid cost overruns continue because of poor projections from last year. It’s already up to $400 million, it’ll probably get up to $500 million.
So I’ve already had $500 million of revenue taken out of Medicaid since I’ve done my budget. I’m not going to hide it. I’m going to be honest about it and let the public know about it and demand that the Legislature do honest accounting.
Q. Is one of your goals to have the budget that passes have a pay raise for state employees, such as public schoolteachers, or is that something that’s still negotiable?
A. My pay raise (for state employees) is in my budget. What’s hurting us right now is the Medicaid cost overruns. My goal is to get a pay raise for state employees, including teachers. The dilemma is there is no new money falling off the trees. I’ve got to rebuild the economy, and I am doing honest accounting, also.
Q. Governor, I know you had this sort of strange incident recently at the Capitol when the children came for a demonstration with former Congressman Bob Etheridge and the whole issue of you throwing a baseball with a baseball glove. What was your personal reaction to that?
A. It really wasn’t a strange incident. I think you may have read about a strange incident. I think you are reading inaccurate descriptions of a strange incident that didn’t occur.
Q. In your first six months, what’s been the biggest surprise to you either positive or negative about the job?
A. The biggest surprise in a negative way is how broken the day-to-day operations are. From DMV to Health and Human Services to Medicaid to basic maintenance of buildings — I was coming from a city government (in Charlotte) where we had pretty good operations.
I was amazed at the lack of operational processes that were in place (in state government). Hundreds of different IS (computer) systems that didn’t talk to each other. Buildings that had no maintenance funds, that actually were catching on fire.
The good news is that I’ve got a quality of my cabinet team that is much higher than I ever anticipated being able to get. Every one of them is coming up with innovative ideas and reform that’s coming from them to me. I got lucky in recruiting a great, smart capable team around me — people a heckuva’ lot smarter than me.
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