News: CJ Exclusives

McCrory: DHHS Too Big To Succeed?

Guv’s first-year review suggest changes may be in store for state agency

Gov. Pat McCrory on Tuesday outlined the goals for his second year in office, which include increasing teacher pay, fast-tracking fracking, and calling on the General Assembly to embrace his wife’s top project — enacting puppy mill legislation.

McCrory, a Republican, suggested that changes might be in order for one of the departments in state government that’s been a thorn in his side during a hectic first year in office, the Department of Health and Human Services.

“As I look at DHHS, we’re asking the question, is it too big to succeed?” McCrory said at a press conference at the Executive Mansion.

Without offering specifics, McCrory posed the question saying the department will be looked at as part of a previously announced reform known as NC GEAR — North Carolina Government Efficiency and Reform.

“It’s just amazing how much is on one organization’s plate,” McCrory said. “I think we’ve had five secretaries [at DHHS] in six years. There’s maybe a reason for that.”

McCrory recounted some of the figurative fires that DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos has put out over the past year, led by problems with computer systems. “It’s just the variance of issues that one organization is having to deal with,” he said.

The governor also called for increasing public school teacher pay this year. He said he wants to increase starting pay to attract and keep talented teachers in the classroom, as well as reward teachers in high-demand subjects.

McCrory said he wanted to make teacher pay competitive, but stopped short of suggesting that the state increase teacher pay to the national average, as has been proposed by former Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt.

Patsy Keever, a former state representative from Buncombe County and vice chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, said McCrory’s initiative on teacher pay was politically motivated.

“The governor’s comments on teacher pay barely touches the surface of the damage Republicans have wrought on public education after gutting nearly half a billion dollars from our classrooms,” Keever said in a statement. “North Carolina teachers and concerned parents will see right through the governor’s attempt to use teacher pay as a political football in the lead up to an election.”

The Senate’s top Republican lambasted Democrats’ treatment of teachers during the time the party ran state government. “It’s reprehensible that the same Democrats who failed to give teachers a raise during their final years in leadership and who fought action to reduce taxes on working families are now attacking efforts to increase teacher pay and foster job growth,” said Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham.

The General Assembly’s budget adopted last summer for K-12 education was $7.9 billion, a 4.8 percent increase over the $7.5 billion budgeted the previous fiscal year.

Berger also applauded McCrory for his commitment to boosting the state’s economy, expanding the domestic energy jobs sector, improving education and transportation infrastructure, and streamlining the government.

McCrory also said he and the General Assembly made the right decision last year when they refused to expand Medicaid as a part of the Obamacare rollout. Even so, McCrory said he wouldn’t rule out an expansion down the road.

“I keep the door open for all options in the future,” McCrory said.

McCrory called for pushing forward with offshore energy exploration. “We’re 10 years behind in this effort,” McCrory said.

He also announced that Transportation Secretary Tony Tata will unveil a 25-year transportation plan that focuses on moving people.

Reducing underage drinking by college students was another priority for McCrory. He said he would ask Public Safety Secretary Frank Perry to work with ABC Commission Chairman Jim Gardner to expand enforcement of existing laws while increasing support for recovery programs.

First Lady Ann McCrory’s campaign to enact a bill banning puppy mills will be an additional point of emphasis. Last year, the House passed a bill that stalled in the Senate. McCrory said he would soon be having lunch with some senators to try to gain support for the measure in that chamber.

Barry Smith (@Barry_Smith) is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.