Seven facts to keep in mind during gubernatorial debate

Posted October 18

— WRAL News will host the final debate in the race for governor 7 p.m. Tuesday night, two days before early in-person voting begins in North Carolina.

This will be the third meeting between Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper.

But unlike in a June North Carolina Bar Association debate or last week's North Carolina Association of Broadcasters debate, Libertarian Lon Cecil will also be on stage. As of Oct. 15, there were 30,654 registered Libertarians in North Carolina, about 0.5 percent of North Carolina's 6.8 million registered voters.

Although last week's debate covered a fair number of topics, the moderators did not touch on the state's handling of coal ash. A "minimal" leak of the toxic material from a Duke Energy facility last weekend as a result of Hurricane Matthew once again highlighted the long-running cleanup saga. Both Cooper and McCrory have accused one another of mishandling their parts in the cleanup efforts.

As for the topics the most recent McCrory-Cooper debate did cover, here are context of seven claims from the first debate that viewers are likely to hear again on Tuesday night.

1) McCrory says there was "record" unemployment when he took office.

"Unemployment was at a record 9.4 percent when I came into office," McCrory said during the first debate. "Believe me, it was a lot worse under Easley and Perdue, governors you (Cooper) strongly supported."

McCrory is about right about where the unemployment rate was when he took office. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics and state Commerce Department peg unemployment at 9.5 percent in January 2012, the month McCrory took office.

It's worth knowing that unemployment in North Carolina hit its 40-year-high under Gov. Bev Perdue at 11.3 percent in January, February and March 2010. Perdue started her term in January 2008 with unemployment at 9.8 percent after it had spiked at the end of Gov. Mike Easley's eight years in office. By the time McCrory was sworn in, the rate had peaked and come down 1.8 percentage points.

In August, North Carolina's unemployment rate was 4.6 percent

During the same time period, the national unemployment rate followed a similar trajectory. It moved from 7.8 percent in January 2009 to a high of 9.9 percent in March and April 2010. In September, the national unemployment rate was pegged at 5 percent.

2) Cooper and McCrory trade claims on education.

McCrory will likely point out that North Carolina's average teacher pay will reach $50,000 per year under the current budget. While that may be true, that figure relies on spending from local governments, some of which supplement the pay the state provides to teachers. Those supplements are bigger in wealthier counties such as Wake and Orange, while some local governments don't offer any.

At the same time, Cooper will insist per-pupil spending on public school students is among the bottom 10 states. The most recent census data, for the year 2014, puts North Carolina's spending 44th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Both McCrory and Cooper said the state needs to do more for education. The question both of them will likely face Tuesday night is how to put more resources into K-12 spending without raising taxes.

3) Cooper claims that the state raided emergency funds for House Bill 2.

"Gov. McCrory took $500,000 directly out of the disaster relief fund, and you know what it's for? House Bill 2," Cooper said during the first debate.

Given the flooding from Hurricane Matthew, North Carolina's disaster recovery efforts has understandably come up in the campaign.

Cooper is referring to August reports that lawmakers re-designated $500,000 of a $10 million disaster relief fund so the governor could use it to defend the controversial House Bill 2, a measure dealing with LGBT rights.

But McCrory declined to sign that bill and afterward said he would manage the state's defense of the law without the extra money. Cooper insists he could have vetoed the measure, which made technical changes to the state budget that was passed this summer.

4) McCrory pins blame for House Bill 2 on Charlotte.

"It's one of the biggest fibs in our national press, and frankly our state press, in which they say the bathroom laws were made by Republicans," McCrory said during the last debate. "We had never brought this issue up. It was the mayor of Charlotte, with the strong support of the attorney general, who decided to put a mandate on the entire private sector who have public facilities."

The battle over what has become known as House Bill 2 has its historical roots Charlotte. The City Council there passed a local measure earlier this year saying that businesses that offered public accommodations had to allow transgender individuals to use the bathroom of their choice.

But House Bill 2 went further, including writing an entirely new state nondiscrimination policy that excluded LGBT people from protections and preventing local government from using their contracting authority to extend nondiscrimination protections beyond the state standard. That bill was passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and signed by McCrory the same day.

5) Cooper continues to defend the crime lab.

"It is providing good service across our state," Cooper said of the State Crime Lab during the last debate.

Both Cooper and McCrory have traded claims and counter-claims about the crime lab.

While it's true that Cooper cleared an initial backlog of rape kits he inherited when he took office in 2000, it can still take the lab more than seven months to process evidence from complex cases, according to its own statistics.

6) Who owed North Carolina's unemployment debt?

"We got rid of a $2.6 billion debt that we owed to the federal government," McCrory said during the first debate.

That $2.6 billion figure refers to money borrowed to pay first-time unemployment claims.

However, that money wasn't something that individual taxpayers would have ended up owing. North Carolina would have never been able or required to raise its own sales and income taxes to repay that debt.

Unemployment claims are paid with special taxes levied on employers on a per-worker basis. If the state runs out of money to pay first-time claims, it borrows from the federal government. If at a certain point that money isn't repaid, taxes are stepped up on employers in order to repay the money.

That money could have risen to as much as $22 per year per employee had the system followed its pre-2013 course. Projections showed the $2.6 billion debt would have been paid sometime in 2020.

However, by trimming unemployment benefits, the state sped the repayment and reached zero debt by mid-2015. All told, North Carolina employers can figure to pay $700 million less a year in unemployment taxes starting in 2017 than they paid in 2014.

7) Has state policy on abortion become more restrictive?

During the broadcaster's debate, moderator Chuck Todd asked the governor about his record on abortion and social issues. McCrory insisted that recent state law did not impact access to abortion.

However, in 2013, McCrory signed a law limiting the availability of abortion coverage on health plans offered by local governments and on the state's Affordable Care Act exchanges. In 2015, the governor signed a bill tripling the wait time for an abortion from 24 to 72 hours.


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  • Matt Nickeson Oct 18, 5:05 p.m.
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    View quoted thread

    Is there really any difference any more?

  • John Townsend Oct 18, 4:25 p.m.
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    Editorials should be labeled as such rather than presented as news.

  • Clarence Drumgoole Oct 18, 1:28 p.m.
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    Vote Democrat, end the madness!

  • Aiden Audric Oct 18, 11:04 a.m.
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    MCCrory has to lie to make it seem as though he accomplished positive things in this state.

    Cooper has to stretch the truth to counter the hyperbolic distortions McCrory throws into his gears.

    I'm really not happy with the candidates at any level, from my HOA up to the president (kidding, just talking political candidates here). I think they should hand out airsickness bags at the ballot - It's going to be like a vomitorium at polling places (again, kidding, I know that's an historical urban myth).

  • Sam Nada Oct 18, 10:47 a.m.
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    The trope that HB2 was all Charlotte's fault is utter nonsense. Even if the GA wanted to moderate Charlotte's ordinance it did not require HB2, which legalized discrimination, and included numerous other unrelated government overreach measures. It also wasn't an emergency that required passing a law in one day with no debate or participation by the Dems. Pope and friends were looking for an excuse to pass the other provisions, and for a political lightening rod, during an election year. Hopefully they're the ones who will get struck by lightening in Nov.

  • Edward Tilley Oct 18, 9:53 a.m.
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    Eighth Fact to keep in mind as David Crabtree and Laura Leslie "ensure" a fair debate- WRAL President Jim Goodmon and his familt have donated over $30,000 to the Cooper campaign.

  • Ken Ackerman Oct 18, 8:04 a.m.
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    McCrory is stacking the deck with his unemployment improvement claims. It's true there are a lot fewer people in NC getting unemployment benefits but that does not equate to fewer people being without jobs. In NC when someone becomes unemployed they can only be counted for 13 weeks while in most other states they are counts for 52 weeks or 4 times as long. This has the effect of dropping spikes from the calculations much more quickly in NC while in other states multiple spikes might be counted together.

    In other words McCrory is playing by different rules than his predecessors did.