Raleigh, N.C. — The three E's on Gov. Pat McCrory's 2013 priority list have been replaced this year by two E's and an M.
During his State of the State address a year ago, McCrory said he would focus on improving North Carolina's economy and education system and promoting efficiency in state government. On Tuesday, he held an hour-long news conference at the Executive Mansion to outline his 2014 agenda, naming energy production, educational improvement and Medicaid reform as his top priorities.
Beyond those three items, the governor laid out a sprawling list of goals for the coming year, from working with federal officials to secure the future of North Carolina's military bases to using public art to beautify state highways and bridges.
Surrounded by his cabinet in front of an image of the North Carolina mountains emblazoned with the phase "Carolina Comeback: Next Chapter," McCrory said the efforts of his first year in office, including tax reform and changes to the unemployment insurance system, have put the state's economy back on track. But he insisted his administration is pursuing long-term growth and not short-term fixes.
Push for energy
Energy production will be a key driver of North Carolina's economy in the coming years, he said, noting that he spoke briefly about the state's energy economy with President Barack Obama and U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz last week during Obama's visit to Raleigh. The governor said he plans to work closely with federal officials to expand offshore oil and gas exploration and will push for establishing an onshore gas drilling industry as quickly as possible.
Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources John Skvarla said he expects the state Mining and Energy Commission will meet its October deadline of drafting drilling regulations, so the state can begin issuing permits for gas exploration by March 2015.
Teacher raises guarantee
On the education front, McCrory reiterated that he plans to push for teacher raises this year, noting they have had stagnant wages for years. The state ranks 46th nationwide in terms of average pay.
"Teachers in North Carolina had one raise in the last five or six years, and that is unacceptable to me and unacceptable to the legislature and unacceptable to the people of North Carolina," he said. "We will get teacher raises done this year."
He didn't go into detail about raises, but during a speech to lawmakers last week, he suggested moving beyond a salary structure based on years of experience to consider the market demand in various fields when deciding on how much a teacher should earn.
DHHS, Medicaid reform
Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos said she plans to present recommendations for Medicaid reform to lawmakers on March 17. McCrory said the state can't afford to keep pushing the effort off, hoping to get by one year to the next, because the costs are overwhelming.
The governor sounded many of the same themes he advanced almost a year ago, when he rolled out his plans for a managed care-style system for Medicaid. Lawmakers gave the plan a tepid response, but Wos said she has pulled together suggestions from people statewide in recent months as she drafted recommendations.
McCrory said DHHS itself might undergo some reform, asking whether the agency is "too big to succeed." State Budget Director Art Pope will help lead a review of DHHS operations to determine how best to provide services and cut costs.
Democratic legislative leaders quickly jumped on McCrory's agenda as empty rhetoric, noting that he declined giving teachers a raise last year in order to pass a tax reform plan that benefits the wealthy more than the working class.
“We learned during Gov. McCrory’s first year that we should judge the governor by his actions and not his words,” House Minority Leader Larry Hall said in a statement.
"Teachers, students and working families have seen Gov. McCrory’s true priorities, and until we see a meaningful plan that supports education and grows the middle class, the governor’s words will remain hollow,” Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt said in a statement.
Perhaps anticipating the criticism, McCrory told reporters that he's glad to meet with critics and urged them to offer alternative solutions to problems the state faces.
"I welcome people who disagree with our policy stances to come up with ideas," he said. "I think one area we all need to improve on is dialogue and conversation and not political soundbites against each other."
The following are some of the other items McCrory included on his agenda for 2014:
- Passing legislation to limit so-called puppy mills and place animal care requirements on dog breeders.
- Reviewing all state properties to address safety and health issues for workers, as well as any issues that could hinder productivity.
- Implement a "performance management system" to boost productivity among state workers.
- Launch a program on college campuses statewide to discourage binge drinking and drug use and to provide assistance to students with substance abuse problems.
- Work with federal officials on the future of North Carolina military bases and to recruit returning veterans for the state's private-sector workforce.
- Complete a 25-year plan in the Department of Transportation to move people and products more efficiently across the state, boosting job growth and urban and rural economies.
- Promote tourism through the use of landscape art to beautify state highways and bridges.