Ask Anything: 10 questions with Gov. Mike Easley
Posted June 10, 2008 6:30 a.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 2:03 p.m. EDT
I have been a supporter of yours for many years, but I can't understand your stand on illegal aliens being able to attend community colleges across the state. Can you explain your rationale? – Robert Senter, Holly Springs
Mr. Senter – First, thank you for your support. I do appreciate it as well as your interest in North Carolina government. As we all know, our regulations and laws concerning immigration are made in Washington. It is a federal responsibility. Our leaders in Washington need to address these issues, and frankly they have not done a very good job. As you may have recently read, the federal Department of Homeland Security has issued a statement that federal law allows undocumented individuals to attend community colleges, and all other states allow them to attend their colleges. The few who are attending our community colleges or public universities must pay out-of-state tuition and are forbidden from receiving any state or federal financial assistance. This handful of students is paying more than the cost of their education and they do not take seats away from our citizens to go to school in North Carolina. Our community colleges do not turn down anybody. The reason North Carolina and all other states are educating immigrants is that they are becoming a huge part of our work force. Washington has not enforced the law disallowing them to work since the 1990s. As long as Washington takes no action to close the borders and enforce the federal law, these immigrants are becoming part of our work force and it is best for North Carolina and other states that all the work force be educated.
Gov. Easley, do you think pushing for a lottery in N.C. has been worth the trouble and have our schools benefited like we were promised? – Timothy Beckett, Fuquay-Varina
Mr. Beckett – If North Carolina is to be competitive in the global economy, we need a world-class education system. To do that, we also need to make sure we provide the money necessary to hire the best teachers and keep class sizes low, provide early-childhood education so every student can start school ready to learn and also make sure that students can afford to continue their education into college. Today, the lottery provides more than $1 million a day for education that would not be there otherwise. At risk four-year-olds are learning their basic skills so when they go to kindergarten, they have the tools to learn to read and add. Our early grades are smaller, no more than 18 students per classroom, so teachers are not refereeing a crowd and they can focus more on their students. More than 32,000 college students receive scholarships to help them pay for their education. Nearly 200 new school buildings are under construction thanks to financial support from lottery funds. Our students and our future are the real lottery winners.
While good teachers are important and key to the success of our children, how can you justify a proposed 7 percent increase in teachers salaries to only a 1.5 percent for other State of N.C. employees, when since 1992, teachers have had an effective pay increase of over 110 percent when other state employees have had just under 50 percent? Are other state workers not important? – Andrew, Holly Springs
Andrew – I am grateful for the people who work for the state and serve our citizens. They are dedicated public servants. In the budget I presented to the General Assembly last month, I proposed a pay increase for state workers. It included a 1.5 percent cost of living increase, a $1,000 bonus along with an additional week of vacation, which is equivalent of a 6 percent increase. The reality is that our teachers have been lagging 6.9 percent behind the national average in pay. Not only have North Carolina teachers been lagging behind their counterparts nationally, but the average state worker with equivalent experience and education actually makes 9 percent more than a teacher. I think you would agree that disparity should not exist. My budget recommendation seeks to address that disparity so that North Carolina can recruit and keep the best teachers for our classrooms.
With gas prices hitting records and no sign of slowing down, why can't N.C. lead the way by (1) reducing or temporarily suspending the gas tax; and (2) giving meaningful tax incentives to companies in N.C. exploring alternative fuels such as biodiesel and ethanol? Doing that may actually even create jobs for this state as well. – Ed Taylor, Knightdale
Mr. Taylor – A couple of years ago, we capped our state gas tax at 29.9 cents per gallon. We have not increased it. Frankly, suspending the gas tax would only hurt North Carolinians, not help them. We all will continue to drive on our local roads and highways, but we would not be collecting money to maintain them or build new ones to accommodate the population growth in our state. I do support the moratorium proposed by Sen. Hillary Clinton on the federal gas tax, because the lost revenue would be covered by a windfall profits tax on the oil companies. Here in North Carolina, we cannot tax the oil companies, but we do have an obligation to make sure our roads are maintained and safe. The state is also funding a biofuels research center to explore alternative fuels. North Carolina is being proactive with our ATEC, Advanced Technology Energy Center, at NCSU that will create over the next two to five years a battery that will power a car for over 100 miles.
Would you be interested in being the vice president on the 2008 Democratic presidential ticket? – James Pearson, Battleboro
Mr. Pearson – No. I am honored to have served the people of North Carolina for almost 30 years. I like it so much, I am going to stay in North Carolina.
Governor Easley, How can you continue to justify using your super delegate vote for Senator Clinton in light of the fact that 1) It is nearly impossible for her to capture the nomination at this point, and this continued divisiveness will hurt your party in November, and 2) The residents of your state, the people you represent and who are the same Democrats who have voted you into office for two terms, supported Senator Obama in overwhelming fashion? – Matt Arnold, Durham
Mr. Arnold – The minute Barack Obama finished the campaign with the most delegates, I pledged to support him. I also believe he should be free to choose whomever he wants for his vice president.
As you know, the eastern part of our state is not enjoying the economic success that other parts of our state have experienced. Why do you think Nash County missed out on the VW plant? Are we out of the running? Was our incentive package strong enough to attract them? What is the best thing you have done to help eastern N.C. or more specifically your home town of Rocky Mount? – Chris Canady, Rocky Mount
I do not know how much Nash County was seriously considered for the proposed plant. I continue to work on solid economic development projects to bring jobs and investment to all areas of the state. The Golden LEAF Foundation, which recently helped provide assistance to land Spirit AeroSystems with more than 1,000 jobs and an investment of more than $570.5 million, at the Global TransPark in Kinston, will continue to benefit the east. But of course, it is our investment in education at all levels that will give us the competitive work force we need to succeed.
As important as the military is to the economy of N.C., why is it that when a soldier dies in war the state offers no kind of real benefit to the survivors? I believe the only benefit here is a hunting and fishing license for free. Personally, I find this kind of benefit from a state an insult more than anything else. How is a hunting and fishing license going to benefit a widow and her family? Other states offer no property taxes or some other kind of significant benefit to show the pride they have for their military and the dedication to the surviving members of the military family. – Christine Wilson, Clayton
Ms. Wilson – No state in our nation is more military friendly than North Carolina. Whether they are serving in the regular military service or National Guard, whether they are veterans or the survivors of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice or been disabled in the line of duty, we honor their service. I want to make you aware of some of the benefits that exist. In appreciation for the service and sacrifices of North Carolina’s war veterans who have been killed while on duty or are prisoners of war or missing in action or disabled, a four-year scholarship is available for their children. Any member of the armed services based in North Carolina who is accepted into one of our community colleges or universities pays only in-state tuition. North Carolina also offers a preference in state government employment to veterans, their surviving spouses or the spouses of disabled veterans. State government also grants reemployment rights to our employees who serve in the National Guard. Our state office of veterans affairs lists all the benefits available, and you can find out more at www.doa.state.nc.us/vets/benefits.htm .
Governor, your administration recently proposed a large tax increase on cigarettes and alcohol, ostensibly to fund mental health and increase teacher pay. This type of tax – the so-called sin taxes – has proven too regressive, distortionary, and often counterproductive. If and when people reduce their intake of alcohol and stop smoking, what will you propose to take their place? – Charles Boyer, Raleigh
Mr. Boyer – Let me start with the last part of your question first. It does not appear, for the near future at least, that a reduction in the consumption of tobacco or alcoholic beverages will make any lack of revenue an issue. The imposition on the individual, a mere 4 cents on a bottle of beer for example, is minimal. But the addition of $76 million for much-needed improvements to the state mental health system will help hundreds of patients around the state. If a 20-cents per pack increase in the price of cigarettes stops even one person from smoking, all the better. That is a problem we would like to have. In the meantime it will raise more than $99 million while still keeping North Carolina’s cigarette tax among the lowest in the nation, about 40th. We have built in expectations of lower numbers of cigarettes being sold in our revenue estimates. Getting teacher pay to the national average was a key goal of the General Assembly and a key goal of mine. A well-educated work force leads to a healthy economy, which leads to enough revenues to fund the necessary purposes of government.
Would you consider looking into how the "average" person makes it day to day? With aging parents to take care of, children to raise, bills to pay, steady increases in everything but your paycheck, can you share with me how to keep my head above water? Would you be willing to spend some time with my family from a week to a month? It doesn't have to be you personally but you can send someone of your choice. I sincerely think if our leaders really understood how we struggle, then maybe laws could be changed to benefit the average person. – Gina Bechtel-Hicks, Moncure
Ms. Bechtel-Hicks – In trying to make it a little easier for low-income families and ensure that they have every opportunity to progress, we have done the following: a marriage penalty tax cut; a child care tax credit; an earned income tax credit that only applies to low-income working citizens; free pre- kindergarten for at-risk 4-year-olds from low-income families; up to two years of college free from our Learn and Earn program; and college EARN grants ($4,000 each) for those below 200 percent of the poverty level ($42,000 for a family of 4) so their kids can graduate debt-free. I am always looking for other ways to make sure that every North Carolinian has the opportunity to reach their full potential. And I am open to any additional ideas you might have. Your legislators would appreciate hearing from you as well.