Pope stepping down as state budget chief

Posted August 6, 2014

— Having shepherded a second state budget through the legislative process, State Budget Director Art Pope will step down in early September, Gov. Pat McCrory announced Wednesday.

Pope will be succeeded by Lee Roberts, a Raleigh banking executive who also is the son of radio and television political commentator Cokie Roberts.

A Raleigh businessman whose family runs a chain of discount stores, Pope long has been a force – both in vision and financial support – behind conservative causes in North Carolina. That made him a lightning rod for criticism of the McCrory administration and its budget priorities over the last 18 months.

Protesters with the "Moral Monday" movement targeted Pope-owned stores for picketing last December to protest his support of "extreme and regressive public policy," such as cuts to unemployment benefits and the state's decision not to expand the Medicaid health insurance program for the poor and disabled.

But Pope wasn't without critics on the right side of the political spectrum. Senators recently grilled him over the administration's projections on Medicaid spending, saying they were too conservative and could leave the state budget in a shambles if they were off the mark and led to too little being set aside to cover costs.

McCrory, however, had nothing but praise for Pope on Wednesday, even delivering a proclamation honoring his service to the state.

"He has been a hands-on budget director, and he's been an important voice and an important mentor and adviser to this governor," McCrory said. "He's been the voice of moderation and conservative common sense."

The governor said he didn't know Pope before he was elected governor, but he quickly found him to be "nothing like the caricature and portrait I read about while I was in Charlotte." Rather, he exhibited financial and legal skills to ferret out waste in state government and negotiated finer points of the budget with state lawmakers.

"He doubled-checked all of the numbers, and he found a few (mistakes)," McCrory said with a chuckle.

McCrory's voice became choked with emotion as he related the story of Pope continuing to work on the 2013 state budget while also caring for his dying mother.

"That is a true human being and public servant," he said.

Pope agreed to serve as budget director for one year – at a $1 annual salary – but McCrory persuaded him to continue working through the 2014 legislative session.

Pope deflected the praise, saying that he had a great staff and was grateful for the opportunity to serve North Carolina.

Roberts most recently served as managing director of Piedmont Community Bank Holdings and previously was chief operating officer of VantageSouth Bancshares, a bank holding company. McCrory said he would bring an outsider's perspective to the state budgeting process.

"I can't fill Art Pope's shoes, but I'm honored to follow in his footsteps," Roberts said. "I'm grateful for the chance to serve, and I'm excited to get to work."

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said he appreciated Pope's efforts on the last two state budgets.

"Thanks to his countless volunteer hours, our state is moving in a far more fiscally sound and sustainable direction," Berger said in a statement.


This blog post is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • jaybird2974 Aug 8, 2014

    He finally did a service for NC. Thanks Pope you did us a favor.

  • angelallgrim Aug 8, 2014

    This guy just worked really hard and ruined many lives around the state just so he and 22 other families don't have to pay any taxes. This guy is the lowest of the low.

  • Garnerwolf1 Aug 8, 2014

    Read these comments. There is no doubt this country is in the midst of another civil war, albeit bloodless to this point. There are only two extremes. There is no middle ground. And the old saying 'the truth is somewhere in the middle' is unfortunately for us, accurate.

  • archmaker Aug 7, 2014

    apparently McCrory is next in line to be governor?

  • Grand Union Aug 7, 2014

    View quoted thread

    LOL and do think that for one moment that his motive is anything other than profit? Thats just fine but its no moral plus point.
    His business model is to profit from the poor and his actions in gov. simply expanded his market whilst increasing his personal wealth in the process.

  • European American Aug 7, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Think he's getting enough "Breaks" from us tax-payers. And he's about to get even more with his grocery store.

  • foodstamptrader Aug 7, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Art Pope is proposing to open a grocery store in an area of SE Raleigh that no one else will serve. He operates in areas that other retailers are afraid of or determine to be unprofitable. Pope is employing people that would otherwise be on welfare. His employees and his stores pay taxes. Why demonize this man just because he does not support the welfare state mentality of handouts? There are many others that are doing real damage, at least he is creating jobs locally and supplying a need. Man, give him a break.

  • bechdel13 Aug 7, 2014

    View quoted thread

    You didn't address my point. If those people of modest means stop buying things in his stores, how many of those jobs is Mr. Pope going to be able to sustain? Everyone that shops at those stores is a job creator, because their actions make it possible for the jobs to be sustained. Giving all the credit to Pope allows the right wing to laud him and people like him as heroes who deserves tax breaks and demonize the less fortunate as "takers" from these magical benevolent "job creators."

    And those lower-income people that shop at the stores? They're paying sales tax. The car they drive to the store? Paying property tax on it. The job that Mr. Pope and his friends so generously give out? FICA taxes on their wages. Don't act like they don't have "skin in the game" just because they might get some tax credits in the middle of April.

  • Mr. Middle of the Road Aug 7, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Art Pope inherited his family business over his father's objections through a will contest. I don't doubt that he works hard but I understand the guidelines of the will settlement give him very little discretion to make any major decisions anyway.

  • foodstamptrader Aug 7, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Art Pope's family business is running stores that sell low priced goods to customers of modest means. He hires folks in areas where jobs are scarce and that larger retailers avoid. Art Pope is far more involved in hiring and supplying the needs of lower income citizens than you or your leftist friends will ever be.

    How permanent are your welfare make work jobs that evaporate once the pot of taxpayer money runs dry? Sheesh, at least Mr. Pope has some skin in the game...