Raleigh, N.C. — Gov. Pat McCrory talked to reporters Tuesday about his agenda for the "short" legislative session that begins in May and beyond. He spent nearly an hour laying out the broad strokes of his agenda and, along with members of his cabinet, answered questions from reporters.
At times, he was crystal clear on agenda items he would pursue – for example, he will push for a puppy mill regulation bill this session. Other answers he gave raised or left open questions about the coming year.
Teacher raises – yes. But what about state employees?
McCrory was unequivocal talking about raising teacher salaries.
"We will get teacher raises done this year," he said, even asking his chief education advisory Eric Guckian to talk about ongoing talks to craft a plan. McCrory called it "unacceptable" that teachers had been given only one raise during the past five years.
But he did not mention rank-and-file state employees.
State employees have had only one raise since 2008 and the State Employees Association of North Carolina is making a major push for a 3 percent raise in this year's budget.
What will Medicaid reform look like?
Virtually since he took office in January 2013, McCrory has been talking about the need to rework the state's Medicaid system. During Tuesday's news conference, he once again referred to the need to care for "the whole person."
Last year, McCrory pushed for a version of Medicaid that would rely heavily on private managed care companies to treat patients who are part of the state's insurance program for the poor and disabled. Lawmakers didn't initially embrace that full-fledged turn to manage care, instead appointing another study committee to look at the issue. Recently, legislators were briefed on accountable care organizations, groups of doctors who took responsibility for ensuring the overall health of a group of patients.
When asked Tuesday, McCrory did not say whether he favored either of those approaches or something else.
"We're in the process of meeting with our teammates in the legislature," he said. "We're looking at a solution, and hopefully it's a solution that can impact all of the state of North Carolina and not just specific regions. ... It might not be one solution fits all for the entire state."
Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos says she will deliver a report on the administration's Medicaid reform proposal on March 17.
Whither film incentives?
Although lawmakers did a major rewrite of the state's tax code last year, a few pieces of the code are likely to come up for debate this summer. None will be more pressing than the state's film incentive tax credit, which is set to expire at the end of this year. Television and film producers say they will be unable to keep productions in this state should the credit expire.
McCrory did not list the tax credit among his high-priority agenda items. Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker did bring it up, but was far from certain about its fate.
"We're still waiting on information. The North Carolina state study is due imminently," Decker said.
What's there to drill?
"One thing that is going to really drive our recovery and renaissance in North Carolina is getting into the energy business," McCrory said.
Drilling, both onshore and off, was the first specific economic priority he mentioned during the new conference and listed clearing the way for onshore natural gas drilling as one of his three top legislative priorities for the coming session.
Environment and Natural Resources Secretary John Skvarla told reporters that that the state should be ready to issue permits for hydraulic fracturing in the spring of 2015.
However, less clear is how big of an economic boon to the state drilling might be. McCrory himself hinted at this uncertainty during the news conference.
New legislation, he said, was needed "so we can begin finding out what's out there through seismic testing offshore and also through testing of potential inland resources in North Carolina counties."
And one question McCrory posed himself about DHHS: "Is it too big to succeed?"
McCrory spent a good deal of time talking about the Department of Health and Human Services, an agency that has faced a constant drumbeat of criticism during his first year in office.
"As I look at DHHS, we're asking the question, 'Is it too big to succeed?'" McCrory said during his prepared remarks. Asked about this remark, MCCrory raised questions about whether the department is too complex for any one person to manage. He ticked off a list of calls he had gotten from Wos about DHHS issues ranging from problems at a local nuclear plant to Medicaid and mental health problems to pre-kindergarten.
"It's an amazing hodgepodge of responsibilities that make management difficult," McCrory said.
He seemed to raise the possibility that the agency might be broken up or restructured somehow, but he was not ready to answer his own question yet.
"I don't have a solution. That's why I'm going to have a team to review," he said. That review of the agency will be led but Budget Director Art Pope.