RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Delivering his first State of the State address, Gov. Pat McCrory said Monday night that his administration would focus on public education so that students are prepared for jobs, improving the state's lagging economy and making government more efficient. He also said he won't be afraid to fluster other leaders to get results.
Sticking to bipartisan and tough-love themes that carried him to victory three months ago, the former Charlotte mayor also said that North Carolina is no longer going to take federal money without knowing how to pay it back.
McCrory, a Republican, was referring to the $2.5 billion that the state owes the federal government for unemployment benefits. He said he would sign a bill Tuesday that would accelerate the debt repayment by raising taxes and cutting maximum jobless benefits by one-third.
"This will ensure our citizens' unemployment safety net is secured and financially sound for future generations," he said during his 45-minute televised address to a joint session of the Republican-dominated General Assembly. He got cheers when adding: "Borrowing from Washington with no idea or plan on how to pay for it ends with this administration right now. We aren't going to do it any longer."
McCrory said North Carolina has fallen behind other states at times to public education and economic recruitment after decades of innovations and that it needs to catch up. He said a top-to-bottom review of the state's economic development assets is a priority. He reiterated his principles for a tax overhaul of lowering income tax rates to those of neighboring states.
"I'm not going to be deterred by those who want to keep the status quo, the way we've always been doing things in North Carolina," he said to an audience that included members of the Council of State, his Cabinet and appeals court members.
McCrory, the state's first Republican governor in 20 years, delivered his address after about 6½ weeks in office. He signed his first bill into law earlier Monday — high school reform legislation that's supposed to re-validate vocational education alongside college prep.
"I firmly believe in this that there are two pathways to success," McCrory said during the speech.
McCrory also has come out against expanding Medicaid, mostly with federal funds, in 2014 to cover an estimated 500,000 uninsured state residents and for letting the federal government, not the state, develop an online health insurance marketplace. The federal health care overhaul gives states the option on both initiatives. McCrory said his team needs time to fix the current Medicaid system.
Democratic lawmakers and their allies say McCrory is refusing federal assistance that will create jobs and help the jobless while North Carolina's 9.2 percent unemployment remains the fifth-highest in the country and about 1.5 million people remain without health insurance.