RALEIGH In his first State of the State address, Gov. Pat McCrory put his task in sobering terms: to confront the states high unemployment rate and set a new direction for a state where too many people are hurting.
McCrory called for making the state more business friendly with lower taxes, a revamped education system that uses technology in the classroom and a streamlined government that makes customer service its mission.
In the 45-minute speech before a joint legislative session, GOP lawmakers interrupted the first Republican governor in 20 years often with applause and hollers, giving the event a pep rally feel.
Achieving these goals will not be easy. ... But we will do it. We must do it, said McCrory, who entered the House chamber through 11-foot golden doors.
McCrory struck a new tone by emphasizing the need to combat drug addiction. He recognized two recovered addicts from the Durham Rescue Mission who sat next to his wife in the gallery above the red-carpeted House floor, and he called for legislation to better fund drug courts and increase penalties for methamphetamine labs.
He also called for more N.C. Education Lottery money to go toward digital learning efforts and less on the bloated and frankly annoying advertising for the games.
But much of the address recycled themes from McCrorys campaign and inauguration, offering few specifics or big ideas as part of his legislative agenda.
On tax reform, he set broad parameters about the states need to lower personal and corporate income tax rates to make them more competitive with neighboring states but offered limited details on how to pay for them other than closing existing tax loopholes.
Democrats criticized the speech for being too broad, using it to link him to a Republican legislature that is moving a partisan agenda.
Response from Democrats
In the Democratic response to McCrorys address, Durham Rep. Larry Hall, the House minority leader, cast an alternative vision for the state, calling for boosts in education spending and training programs to help workers who have lost their jobs retrain and find employment in the new economy.
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, Hall said.
On the effort to overhaul the states tax code, Hall made it clear he would oppose any effort to cut personal and corporate income taxes by applying the state sales tax to services, such as haircuts and doctors visits, as Senate Republicans have suggested.
This means that hardworking taxpayers will have to pay more in taxes overall, while millionaires and big corporations pay less, he said. I will not support any tax reform plan that balances huge cuts for billion-dollar corporations on the backs of middle-class families.
McCrory highlighted the first bill he signed into law earlier in the day a measure that requires the state to label high school diplomas as career ready, college ready or both after graduation.
The effort is designed to put an emphasis on vocational education, an area of concentration for the governor, who campaigned on creating two tracks in the states education system to prepare students to fill needed jobs.
There are two pathways to success, McCrory said. This will empower students to achieve their goals.
McCrory received the education measure at the same time he received a bill that cuts unemployment benefits for the states jobless workers.
He announced he will sign the controversial unemployment measure Tuesday.
Republican lawmakers reacted with pleasure to McCrorys speech, saying the governor struck the right tone and pledged to work with him.
His speech was exactly what North Carolinians needed to hear, and was met with broad support, said House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Cornelius.
Added Senate leader Phil Berger: We applaud Gov. McCrorys commitment to ending the broken policies of his recent predecessors and steering our state on a path to a brighter future.