by Jordan Green
1. The dilemma
Gov. Pat McCrory’s friction with the Republican-led Senate is well documented. His recent alignment with the more moderate House Republicans is a new wrinkle, best understood by the fact that House Speaker Thom Tillis is facing voters across the state in his US Senate race. When the Senate and House came together to finally pass a budget last week, it put McCrory in a quandary. Sign it, and he looks weak. Veto it, and the Republican supermajority is likely to overturn his veto and make him look even weaker.
The first task for an elected official experiencing a challenge in governing? The well crafted press release. On Aug. 1, the governor announced he would sign the budget. “It’s a victory for the people of North Carolina,” McCrory said in a prepared budget. “I laid out specific parameters throughout this process, including a significant pay increase for teachers, no reduction of teacher assistants, preservation of Medicaid eligibility standards and no tax increases, and this budget does just that.” Sounds great.
3. Coal-ash cleanup and textbooks
Several of McCrory’s priorities did not make it into the budget. The coal-ash spill at Duke Energy’s impoundment on the Dan River was an environmental catastrophe and a public-relations disaster for a governor who formerly served as a senior executive at the utility. But there’s no funding to address the problem. The divided Republican lawmakers just couldn’t come to an agreement. And there’s no additional funding for school textbooks. The superintendent and a school board member in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools have confirmed the chronic shortage of textbooks around the state. How is this not a scandal?
4. A test of power
The budget also allowed historic tax credits, critical in reviving downtowns across the state over the past 20 years, to sunset. When Republican lawmakers such as Rep. Julia Howard signaled to Triad City Beat in April they were going to phase out the tax credit, McCrory seemed to have found a fight he thought he could win. The next week he was standing in front of Pickett Cotton Mill in High Point highlighting the importance of the tax credit. It was kind of a progressive version of George Wallace’s stand in the schoolhouse door, albeit not as dramatic. Howard walked her statement back and said she hadn’t really “vowed” to let the tax credits expire, and preservationists expressed confidence that the governor had it covered.
5. The waiting game
To underscore the dynamic between the governor and his fellow Republicans in the legislative branch, run-ins like the historic tax credits decision kind of beg the question of who’s wearing the pants in the family. As of Tuesday afternoon, the governor had yet to sign the budget, although he announced he would via press release the previous Friday at 3:59 p.m. — a period designated for news that is marked for death. Perhaps while announcing plans to sign the budget, the governor wanted to leave a decent interval to let the sting wear off before he lifts his ceremonial pen in front of the TV cameras.
While the budget lies on his desk, McCrory called a press conference on Tuesday afternoon to address the pressing issue of immigration. Our Raleigh correspondent, Kirk Ross, tweeted that McCrory told reporter that the “border issue has come to North Carolina.” As Adam Linker, a healthcare policy analyst at the NC Justice Center, tweeted in response: “How can we stop the South Carolinians?”