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Lawmakers reacting to McCrory's "State of the State" address

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Local lawmakers Thom Goolsby, Susi Hamilton and Kenneth Waddell share their thoughts on Gov. Pat McCrory's first "State of the State" address Local lawmakers Thom Goolsby, Susi Hamilton and Kenneth Waddell share their thoughts on Gov. Pat McCrory's first "State of the State" address

RALEIGH, NC (WECT) –Governor Pat McCrory of North Carolina addressed a joint session of the General Assembly, pledging his administration will "focus all of its attention on these three areas:  economy, education and efficiency of our service."

McCrory addressed lawmakers and a statewide audience nearly six weeks after taking office.  He mentioned several of the controversial issues tackled since the General Assembly reconvened January 30. McCrory promised to sign House Bill 4 on Tuesday, which overhauls the state's unemployment insurance system. The bill cuts unemployment benefits by about one-third, and reduces the length of time unemployed workers can collect the maximum benefit. It also accelerates repayment of the $2.5 billion debt the state owes the federal government from unemployment benefits.

"Borrowing from Washington with no idea on how to pay for it ends with this administration," McCrory said in his address.

McCrory proposed a change in distributing funds from the North Carolina Education Lottery to local school systems across the state. He called for reallocating a portion of the funds from building schools, to technology inside the classrooms.

"I am proposing to re-allocate funds from the bloated, and frankly annoying, advertising costs of the lottery commission, and use that money to help students with technology," McCrory said. "I am also proposing giving schools more flexibility to spend education lottery money on technology learning."

McCrory also mentioned the need to reform North Carolina's tax system, which was one of his main campaign platforms. He said the current decades-old policy "no longer applies to today's economy". He said the new tax policy should include a lower tax rate on personal income tax and business taxes, close loopholes for special interests, be revenue neutral, and be rolled out in a systematic and strategic manner.

"I'm glad to see a Governor breaking with the policies of past Democratic Governors that have led us to the mess we currently find ourselves in," said Sen. Thom Goolsby (R-New Hanover). "This is exactly what North Carolina needs right now. We plan to do everything we can in the legislature to support him."

The address did have its critics. "Governor McCrory said little that was new and gave even fewer specifics," Gerrick Brenner, Executive Director of the liberal-leaning Progress NC group, said in an email statement.  "But, he (McCrory) did endorse a right-wing plan to cut income tax rates that means hardworking taxpayers will have to pay more in taxes overall, while wealthy individuals and corporations will pay less." 

"Gov. McCrory didn't provide specifics for how he would realize his vision for North Carolina this evening,"  said Alexandra Forter Sirota, Director of Budget & Tax Center at the North Carolina Justice Center.  "And while his vision for North Carolina — a high quality of life for all, revitalized communities and infrastructure,  globally competitive businesses — is admirable, whether we get there will depend on how policymakers pursue that vision. The devil certainly will be in the details."

"Gov. McCrory gave an address with a humble yet passionate tone that conveyed a bold vision focused on our economy, education, and government efficiency," said another freshman lawmaker, Rep. Chris Millis (R-Pender). "I look forward to seeing the prosperity that will come from the conservative based principles articulated by Governor McCrory." 

Senate President Pro-Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) released this statement minutes after the Governor's address concluded: "We applaud Gov. McCrory's commitment to ending the broken policies of his recent predecessors and steering our state on a path to a brighter future. The North Carolina Senate is pleased to partner with him in our shared goal of returning North Carolina to its rightful place as the Southeast's leader in job growth, education, transportation and quality of life."

McCrory made it a point to talk about working with leaders of small towns to help grow jobs there, and not just in the major urban areas of Raleigh and Charlotte. Calling the address "a good starting point", freshman lawmaker Kenneth Waddell wanted to hear more.

"He did not lay out enough specifics to promote growth in rural counties," said Rep. Waddell (D-Columbus).  "That is extremely important if North Carolina is going to continue to grow."

"I am thrilled that the Governor mentioned approval of the new refrigeration facility at the North Carolina State Port Authority of Wilmington," Rep. Susi Hamilton (D-New Hanover) said in a statement. "It is a great public private partnership that aspires to expand North Carolina's economy.  Obviously the refusal to expand health benefits to 5% of North Carolina citizens is a disappointment. On the whole, the Governor's speech should inspire good, healthy debate from everyone on how to move North Carolina forward."

"None of this can be about politics, power, legacy , turf or ‘who gets the credit'. Who cares?" McCrory said near the end of his address. "This has got to be about the people of North Carolina. Achieving these goals will not be easy. We will have to fulfill and exceed North Carolina's potential. Now, let's get back to work."

McCrory's office did not release a copy of his remarks.  Here is a copy of the Democratic response, delivered by House Minority Leader Larry Hall (D-Durham):

"Good evening North Carolina, I am House Democratic Minority Leader Larry Hall and I want to speak with you tonight about our ideas to move North Carolina forward.

In our political system we campaign for the positions of leadership, but after the elections are over we have to work for the greater good of all North Carolinians.  Once elected that is the sworn duty of us all, to put Party aside and work together.

Our No. 1 priority is getting people back to work so that they can support themselves and their families. The key to building a sustainable economy is growing a healthy and vibrant middle class in North Carolina.

Democrats believe we must create jobs by building a robust and diverse economy throughout our state. To do that we must find new and innovative ways to support small businesses. We need to expand worker training programs to help workers who have lost their jobs retrain and find employment in the new economy.

Gov. McCrory continues to push for tax reform. We cannot support any tax reform plan that doesn't pass a simple fairness test. Gov. McCrory's plan would expand the sales tax to include more services like haircuts, home maintenance and doctors' visits while cutting income taxes for the wealthiest individuals and big corporations. This means that hardworking taxpayers will have to pay more in taxes overall, while millionaires and big corporations pay less. I will not support any tax reform plan that balances huge cuts for billion-dollar corporations on the backs of middle class families.

Gov. McCrory campaigned on the need to reform public education. We agree it is vital that we retool and improve our public education system. We must, however, make sure that reform is not just a code word for continuing to cut more and more from our schools. Cutting funding for public education is wrong because it hurts our children's ability to succeed and compete for the jobs of the future.

In recent years Republicans have slashed teachers and increased class sizes. They have continually asked our teachers to do more with less. It's time to end this cycle, it's time to invest in our schools and our future by giving teachers the tools and resources they need to help our students succeed. We should treat our teachers like professionals and our students like our future.

Gov. McCrory supports bringing online charter schools to North Carolina. His plan lacks accountability and would allow out-of-state corporations to create online, for-profit virtual charter schools. These schools wouldn't have to provide school buildings, buses, lunches or face to face meetings between parents and teachers. Yet at the end of the day, they would receive the same amount of our tax dollars as our public schools. This is wrong. Democrats believe we must have more accountability and that we should keep North Carolina's education in the hands of North Carolinians.

For decades, North Carolina has been a leader in higher education. We built a world-class university system and a community college system that is second to none. Today's students, however, are faced with rising tuition costs and decreased financial aid. This current trend threatens middle class access to our colleges and universities. We call on Gov. McCrory to reverse this trend and make increasing middle class access to higher education a priority in his first budget.

We believe our state must give North Carolinians the government they deserve - an open and honest government that is accountable and respects the rights of all its citizens. We need to increase oversight and promote accountability in state government to ensure taxpayer money is spent wisely and efficiently. We need to reform ethics laws to ensure our government is accountable to the people and not to special interests.  And we need to protect the right of all North Carolinians to participate in electing their leaders.

Our Democratic philosophy is this - everyone who pays their fair share, works hard and plays by the rules should have a fair shot at success. In the coming weeks and months, my Democratic colleagues and I will introduce legislation to accomplish the goals and uphold the values I have outlined tonight.

We stand ready to work with the Republican leadership to move North Carolina forward.

Thank you and may God Bless you and all North Carolinians."

Copyright 2013 WECT. Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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