Local Politics

Perdue: Governing not popularity contest

Posted December 22, 2009 12:34 p.m. EST
Updated December 22, 2009 8:55 p.m. EST

— Gov. Beverly Perdue readily acknowledged Tuesday that she made some unpopular decisions during her first year in office, but she said moving the state forward is more important to her than being popular.

During a 45-minute discussion with reporters, Perdue addressed moves she made to deal with the record $4.6 billion state deficit, such as furloughs for state workers, cuts to services and increases to the state sales tax rate and on alcohol and cigarettes. As the economy spiraled down last spring and the deficit ballooned, she said, every decision she made was focused on maintaining the state's fiscal integrity.

"(For) two months, I'd sit up at night and figure out how to pay the bills. There were times that we were so close to the edge," she said. "I didn't go out and steal every pot of money I could find in North Carolina or furlough teachers and state employees because I thought it was cute to do. I did it because I wanted to pay the bills."

With the state unemployment rate at almost 11 percent, Perdue's approval ratings are near record lows. Yet, she said she believes her decisions have positioned North Carolina to grow in the future. She said North Carolina's recent ranking by a magazine as the No. 1 state for business validates many of her decisions.

"I can't give myself a grade," she said. "We've come through just a really hard year – a hard, challenging year – not just for me, but for the people of North Carolina. I believe we've fundamentally restructured fiscally (so) that we can deal with whatever hand we're dealt in the next three years."

The state faces a budget shortfall of $400 million in the 2009-10 fiscal year because of continued weak tax collections, but she said that can be handled without much effort because she ordered state agencies in August to hold back 5 percent of their annual appropriations.

The governor said she has concerns about the long-term economic future, questioning whether the state will get a cut of the growing online retail market and whether the federal government will leave states with unfunded mandates.

"I see a glimmer of recovery. I don't say that with any kind of false data. I say it because I see it," she said.

Still, she said she remains focused on improving North Carolina's public schools, creating jobs, boosting small businesses and making state government more efficient and transparent in the coming year.

"Innovation and change is much harder than anyone believed it would be," she said, adding that she intends to keep pushing for tougher ethics for state officials and greater accessibility of state contracts.

Perdue said she plans to unveil an educational initiative in 2010 known as Ready, Set, Go, which she first thought of during an October business-recruiting trip to China and Japan.

"I came back from China changed in an odd kind of way," she said, noting she now has a greater sense of urgency to create more job-training opportunities and to improve North Carolina's dropout rate.

"For three more years, I'm going to be governor – maybe seven – and I'm going to continue to push this state forward," she said.