State of state’ evokes reactions from local leaders

Feb. 20, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

After hearing new Gov. Pat McCrory’s first State of the State speech address on Monday, local political leaders had mixed reactions that didn’t always follow partisan lines.

Charlie Parks, a Republican and the chairman of the Lee County Board of Commissioners, said he missed the speech because of a board meeting but read about it later and generally liked what McCrory had to say.“Our economy’s in bad shape and doesn’t look like its getting any better,” he said, adding that he believes McCrory’s plan to lower corporate and personal income tax and pay for it by raising sales taxes will help the state’s economy improve.

Sanford Mayor Cornelia Olive, a Democrat, had the exact opposite opinion.

“That concerns me a lot because ... with the sales tax, we’re going to have everybody across the board paying more for consumer products,” she said. “... I’m afraid we’re just going to create a broader layer of people who can’t afford the essentials.”

The two leaders switched sides on education, though, with Olive in favor of McCrory’s plan to establish a more clarified system for high school students to either take classes to go to college or classes to go into the workforce. McCrory signed that bill — the first of his tenure as governor — into law just hours before the speech, but it won’t go into effect until the 2014-15 school year. It also calls for more career and technical education teachers coupled with a loosening of evaluation requirements for those positions in order to increase accessibility.

“I liked what he said about education, but I don’t know how in the world he’s going to pay for it,” she said, adding that she’s wary of calls to increase public funding for charter or private schools.

Parks, however, said that he disagreed with McCrory on education, as well as his call to look into renewable energy.

“Our high school students should have the background information and the basics so they can go any of the three directions,” he said, referring to the law that sets up tracks for college, career, and college/career. Parks said that one of the biggest problems Lee County has seen recently is people who are only trained for a manufacturing job but lose that job and don’t have other skills to fall back on, such as opening a small business in the same field.

“If they get laid off from an assembly line, what will they do?” he said. “Or if they do have a steady assembly line job, they’re stuck there and can’t move up into administration if they don’t have a broader education.”

Parks said he supported McCrory’s pledge to follow the legislature in rejecting federal funding for unemployment insurance and a Medicaid expansion, which would be paid for 100 percent by the federal government for the first three years and would require 7 percent state funding every year after.

Parks said those kinds of mandates often fall on local governments to help fund and carry out, and that he thinks in that case, it should be a state or local decision as to how much money is spent. As for unemployment insurance, he said, it’s a negative incentive.

“We’ve made it too easy to stay unemployed and where you start making life decisions saying, ‘Well, the government will just take care of me,’” he said.

Olive, however, said that combining cuts to Medicaid and unemployment benefits with a rising sales tax — a tax that disproportionately affects lower-income people — might be too much for this community and the state as a whole to handle.

Ann McCracken, chairwoman of the Lee County Democratic Party, also said she couldn’t fathom the logic behind that stance.

“The general public is just going to suffer through this,” she said. “All this with Medicaid and unemployment insurance, all these (cuts) are keeping people from having money to spend in the economy.”

Like Parks, she missed the speech because of the commissioners’ meeting but said from what she heard and read afterward, it was symptomatic of what she sees as a turn to the right for McCrory.

“McCrory may be an OK person, but to me, he’s just sold out to the ultra-right wing of the party,” she said.

Charles Staley, chairman of the Lee County Republican Party, said in an email that he liked the speech and the way McCrory’s nascent administration is shaping up.

“It is clear that he is going to be governor of all the people in the state,” he wrote. “I was particularly happy to hear him say that small towns and farmers need state support as well as the metropolitan areas.”