Raleigh, N.C. — A key legislative committee gave a chilly reception Monday to the final report from NC GEAR, Gov. Pat McCrory's signature initiative to reform state government.
The two-year, $4 million project, headed by McCrory budget director Lee Roberts and deputy director Joe Coletti, made 22 recommendations for reforms, from changing school system purchasing to privatizing the state motor pool. Others included charging state agencies for utilities and rent, consolidating state-owned facilities and moving the state's zoo, aquariums and parks out of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to the Department of Cultural Resources, raising admission fees and leveraging nonprofits to help pay for their operations.
The report was released in early March but was officially presented to lawmakers for the first time Monday at a meeting of the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee.
Coletti said the recommendations were geared toward "efficiency, effectiveness and customer service," rather than cost savings.
"When we started off, we had some grand ideas, but as we worked with state agencies, we realized we had to focus on the fundamentals of state government first," such as facilities, vehicles and information technology, Coletti said. "If we can’t do those things right, then it doesn’t matter what other good ideas we have."
Coletti said the project started out with dozens of ideas, but most "fell out" because of their expense, degree of difficulty or both.
Lawmakers expressed disappointment in the project's lack of scale and the report's lack of details about how the changes should be implemented and how cost savings were calculated.
Co-chairman Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus, said he had expected the project to look into how the state pays for education.
"I don’t see anything that restructures any particular department. I don’t see anything that addresses funding formulas," Hartsell said.
Sen. Stan Bingham, R-Davidson, said he had hoped NC GEAR would assess Medicaid spending growth.
“They sort of eat everybody’s lunch in terms of what we do and don’t do,” Bingham said.
Coletti defended the project's focus on basic functions.
"The result is perhaps not the greatest thing since sliced bread, but if we can slice bread, sir, we think that’s a major accomplishment," he said.
Co-chairman Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, wasn't convinced.
"We need you to kick it up. I’m trying to be respectful, but we need more," he told Coletti. "We know how tough this is. That’s what we do here."
After the meeting, Hartsell said the workings of state and local government in North Carolina haven't changed in any meaningful way since the 1930s.
"I’m a little disappointed in the ultimate work product," he told reporters. "At least initially, that’s how it was sold – that we’d have some potential structural changes. The problems we have are in many cases structural.
"Maybe we didn’t charge them with enough to do," he added, "but I still think that it needs to be done."