It would be a low blow, in my opinion, if someone chose this week to write about Gov. Pat McCrory's foolish plan to bring offshore oil drillers to the North Carolina coast. Not with the pictures still fresh in our minds of the oil from a major pipeline rupture coating the beaches in Santa Barbara, California. Not while our Carolina blue skies tell us that the energy we need for the future can be captured from the sun.
So no, I won't write about that.
Instead, I will sympathize with our governor, who wants desperately to be noticed—and seen as a visionary—but whose sole plan for public investments in economic progress is not just feckless but irrelevant given the internecine warfare in his N.C. Republican Party over how fast the state should disinvest.
McCrory did have a role in two recent, positive developments for Raleigh: the deal for the city to acquire the Dix Hospital property from the state, and the ribbon-cutting for the new Amtrak station, which goes forward with substantial state funding.
These are the kinds of investments in public infrastructure—a transportation hub, a future park—that McCrory favors. They're why, at the drop of a golf ball, McCrory will say he's an Eisenhower Republican. President Dwight Eisenhower, also an avid golfer, launched the interstate highway system 60 years ago.
Unfortunately for McCrory, neither Dix Park nor the railroad station is his initiative. Dix was signed over by Gov. Bev Perdue, a Democrat, before Republican legislators put the contract on ice. And the station originated in Perdue's Department of Transportation.
Last week, with the sun shining brightly, obstreperous Republicans fought furiously in the General Assembly over state spending and—irony alert—solar energy. The first battle was about whether to slash spending further or merely hold the line on their previous budget cuts as the 2016 elections approach. The second was whether to pare investment in solar—by reducing the state's program of tax credits—or abolish the credits and invest nothing.
These were the struggles as the House adopted a budget proposal for 2015-'16 and sent it to the Senate, where the combat will continue. On one side are the rabid right-wing Republicans, followers of the ultra-right Americans for Prosperity's line that the House GOP was guilty of "overspending and kowtowing to every special interest group asking for a handout." On the other are more respectable right-wingers like Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, the chief House budget writer, who would like to look a little less crazy while he's running for re-election in a big-turnout presidential year.
How to invest for future prosperity? That topic didn't come up.
McCrory is also hoping to be re-elected next year, which explains his proposal, dubbed "Connect NC," to put a pair of bond issues on the ballot this November, one for transportation, the other for assorted infrastructure. The two, if approved, would add $2.85 billion to the state's debt. They're pure pork barrel politics, no way around it. But there's better pork and worse—and Connect NC is the bad variety.
I say that because, were it not for the spending cuts the Republicans enacted, along with their tax cuts for corporations and the rich, many if not most of the jumble of projects contained in these bond packages could be paid for through the ordinary budget process. That is, with regular appropriations and no need for long-term borrowing.
Hardly the farsighted, Eisenhower-style investments McCrory's touting, much of this collection is from the Fred Sanford school of junkyard leftovers.
For example, I'm not against spending $151,000 to replace the domestic water heater at the state crime lab, or $90,000 for a new heat exchanger at "Steam Plant, Boiler III" in Wake County. But are they really examples of the "bold action" that will drive future growth in our state, as McCrory told the N.C. Chamber this month?
Similarly, McCrory would borrow for an engineering building at N.C. State ($77 million), a science building at UNC-Charlotte ($60 million) and a health sciences building at Appalachian State ($71 million). All could be paid for by regular appropriations had the Republicans not slashed funding for the UNC system; in fact, all three are tucked into the budget passed last week by the House, albeit attached to a different kind of debt financing that the voters would not be asked to approve.
The sad fact is, without his Connect NC bonds, McCrory has virtually no record to stand on when it comes to creating growth or jobs. Cutting state spending doesn't create jobs. Cutting taxes for corporations and the rich may or may not, depending on where in the world they invest their windfall.
McCrory has a little something for almost every county in his Connect NC ragbag. A better plan would reserve long-term borrowing for true capital investments that pay economic dividends for years to come—perhaps including a major effort to prepare North Carolina for a solar-energy future.
The good news: House leaders want McCrory's bond issues put off to 2016; the Senate seems to have no interest in them at all. They're all too busy cutting government to give McCrory an ear.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Poor poor pitiful Pat."