Gov.-elect Pat McCrory promised Thursday to scrutinize the efficiency and accountability of government departments and programs, while vowing to work across political and geographical boundaries to create more jobs and bring “a mayor’s attitude” of problem-solving to Raleigh.
In methodically laying out a glimpse of his administration while revealing few details of his public policy agenda, McCrory announced members of his transition team to the media. It was his first capital city news conference since he defeated Democratic Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton Tuesday to become only the third Republican governor in North Carolina since the 19th century.
“We’ve got some extremely important problems that we have to address,” including taxes, health care reform, economic development, the impact of federal budget sequestration on North Carolina’s military bases, transportation, and education at all levels, McCrory said.
“It’s my job as leader to make those tough decisions,” and he is building an accomplished team of transition experts to get the process started, he said. Thomas Stith, a former Durham City Council member who unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2007 and for the GOP nomination as lieutenant governor in 2004, is transition director. He has been working at the Kenan Institute at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Another member of the transition team is businessman Art Pope, who served all or part of four terms in the General Assembly, was special counsel to Gov. Jim Martin, and is a board member of the John Locke Foundation, publisher of Carolina Journal.
McCrory said he is casting both state and national nets to recruit the brightest talent for jobs in his administration.
“There are three or four departments in the executive branch that I’m really going to concentrate on as far as customer service, as far as efficiency,” McCrory said. Those include the departments of Commerce, Transportation, and Environment and Natural Resources.
Commerce will be examined “because of the economic development issue,” McCrory said. “Tax policy, incentive policy, we’re going to be reviewing extensively.”
Transportation will be under the scope “because of the tremendous outlay of capital expenditures,” he said.
“I got a lot of feedback on [DENR] because of regulations, how we apply regulations and implement regulations,” McCrory said.
Education accountability “is very disjointed at this point,” he said, and also will be reviewed, from Pre-k to K-12, community colleges to the universities.
He said he has talked to several legislative committee chairmen about vocational training, “which is very close to my heart,” to determine “how can we tie in those silos in a better way.”
McCrory said he and Perdue have talked about working jointly with the leadership of the state’s military bases to avoid hard hits from federal sequestration. That is a predetermined congressional measure to cut automatically $1.2 trillion from the federal budget over the next 10 years, including $500 billion in defense spending, if a budget plan reducing the federal debt is not crafted.
The governor-elect said there would be “some incredible decisions being made, possibly within the next month or two,” involving defense spending.
He said he and Perdue agreed to visit every military base in the state between now and December.
“I think that will be a very strong signal to the military” that there is bipartisan cooperation, McCrory said. State officials will have to work closely with the Pentagon and Capitol Hill to protect the state’s military jobs, he said.
Even before that, Perdue will need to determine by Nov. 16 whether she will sign North Carolina up to create a health care exchange as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. If the state does not establish its own exchange, the federal government will create one.
The exchanges are designed, in theory, to provide more options to individuals and small companies to purchase health insurance under Obamacare.
“There is total confusion. No one understands the bill or its implementation,” based on feedback he’s received from Democratic and Republican governors nationwide, McCrory said. He is optimistic the Obama administration may provide more guidance now that the presidential election is over, and will consider implementing revisions suggested by governors.
He said, without offering specifics, that his policy group will be working to address repayment of the state’s $2.4 billion unemployment tax debt to the federal government. The state ran out of money to pay unemployment benefits amassed due to high joblessness starting in February 2009. North Carolina employers are now being hit with higher unemployment compensation taxes to pay back the money.
As is typical with most newly elected governors, McCrory said his administration would be inclusive and welcoming of diverse opinions to better forge best ideas and practices.
“I’m going to be reaching out to Democratic leaders this week and next week,” and he has been working collaboratively with the outgoing Perdue, he said. He has had “very good conversations” with Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis.
Historically, voters have been wary about electing statewide candidates from North Carolina’s largest metro area. To allay any concerns, McCrory said he would not be salting his top posts with Charlotte-Mecklenburg appointees, but seeking representative balance from across the state.
“This is going to be a team approach,” McCrory said, and he will embrace bipartisan assistance from Perdue, a Democrat, Democratic ex-Gov. Mike Easley, and Republican ex-governors Jim Holshouser and Jim Martin.
“I think that’s a good message to the state” to foster continuity among past administrations, McCrory said.
“North Carolina is our customer, and our goal is to fix the economy, and try to make government as efficient and responsive to our customers as possible,” McCrory said.
He plans to instill “a culture of customer service, where we treat each other as partners, and our No. 1 goal is to help North Carolina,” he said.
“Our administration will be very accessible, extremely transparent, and, most of all, extremely ethical,” McCrory said. All members of his transition team already have signed ethics pledges.
McCrory was accompanied to the news conference by his wife, Ann. Republican Lt. Gov-elect Dan Forest also was in attendance, along with a number of legislators and members of the McCrory transition team. McCrory made mention that unsuccessful Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Linda Coleman is raising the specter of a challenge to Forest’s win.
The governor-elect said he was not sure of the date on which he will be sworn in to office. And he joked about the lifestyle change of uprooting and moving from Charlotte to Raleigh.
“Our dog has not been presented with this issue yet,” McCrory said. “Mo does not know.”
Dan E. Way is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.