RALEIGH, N.C. — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Walter Dalton sought Monday to wear the mantle of the candidate with fresh ideas to fix North Carolina's economy, but Republican rival Pat McCrory's campaign argued Dalton is trying to hide from his party's old tax-and-spend policies.
Unveiling his economic and job-creation platform at a downtown Raleigh pub, the lieutenant governor said his proposals were more detailed than McCrory's and based on research and best practices.
"It is not political platitudes. It's not poll-tested talk. This is a real plan to put people back to work in this state," Dalton told reporters. "It will help our companies. It's going to leverage North Carolina's strengths, and I think it will strengthen our weaknesses."
The two-dozen or so ideas in Dalton's plan include tax breaks for small businesses, a $2,000 tax credit for employers hiring a long-term jobless worker, and funds to encourage manufacturing, biotechnology and multi-state infrastructure projects. Employers also could reduce worker hours and wages temporarily to get through tough spots while employees get partial unemployment benefits.
Dalton's campaign said the price tag on the plan to the state would be about $80 million, with $50 million earmarked for a state endowment that with private investment dollars would encourage the development of commercial products at the state's research institutions. The endowment is modeled on a Kentucky initiative. Dalton pointed to a business developed out of the N.C. State University textile school that creates high-performance woven products as the kind of startup that could benefit from the endowment.
Dalton said he has many other ideas, including the creation of economic development teams to recruit companies to industries that have performed well in the state, such as agribusiness. The state also should focus more on helping rural areas succeed and develop the military maintenance industry, he said.
McCrory, the former Charlotte mayor, released his own seven-point proposal in July that focused upon making government treat business more like customers, fighting redundant or onerous regulations, and reducing individual and corporate income tax rates that are among the highest in the Southeast. He also wants to modernize North Carolina's tax code, abolish the state's portion of the estate tax and eliminate corporate incentives packages that contained upfront cash payments.
Dalton contends McCrory has failed to give specific details in his proposal. McCrory hasn't said how much his recovery plan would cost the state or how much he would cut income tax rates. Dalton said he would seek to exempt a portion of taxable income — up to $15,000 or $25,000 depending on the business size — from the state's 6.9 percent corporate tax income rate if elected.
The major-party candidates don't agree on why the state has a 9.6 percent unemployment rate three years after the Great Recession officially ended.
McCrory has said Democratic elected officials like Dalton and outgoing Gov. Beverly Perdue have choked North Carolina's economy by raising sales and income tax rates during the past decade and increasing government spending.
"Dalton cannot be trusted to fix North Carolina's broken economy because Dalton himself is a part of the problem," McCrory press secretary Ricky Diaz said in a statement.
Dalton blames federal trade policies early in the last decade and a massive retraction in access to business credit for the extended sour economy. The GOP-led General Assembly didn't help with spending cuts that led to the loss of thousands of public school and state government jobs, he said.
Dalton accuses McCrory of wanting to raise taxes on the middle class by subjecting more services or items consumers use to the sales tax as part of his modernization strategy. McCrory's campaign said that's not true and that any tax overhaul he promotes would encourage business productivity and wouldn't immediately increase the state's share of revenue.
Tax reform plans promoted by Democrats over the years have expanded the number of transactions subject to the sales tax while reducing the overall sales tax rate. McCrory and Dalton both have said the state should examine current targeted tax breaks and determine whether they should be eliminated.