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Actions belie State of State speech rhetoric

In his State of the State address Monday night, Gov. Pat McCrory described himself as an “Eisenhower Republican” – an apparent euphemism for being centrist or moderate. But on Tuesday, McCrory’s actions revealed that assessment as more rhetoric than reality. He signed into law an ill-advised, money-wasting unemployment insurance bill.

The bill aims to repay at a quicker pace $2.5 billion the state borrowed from the federal government to cover jobless benefits. Lawmakers slashed benefits for thousands of struggling N.C. residents while asking businesses to pay only slightly higher and temporary unemployment taxes. Because the bill takes effect July 1, a federal law cuts off federal benefits to 170,000 North Carolinians worth $780 million.

The bill was bad enough, putting most of the burden for repaying the federal debt on those who are out of work. More balanced alternatives existed.

But the effective date could have been moved to Jan. 1 of next year, which would have kept intact the federal benefits. It’s shameful lawmakers did not move the date and that McCrory did not press them to. The $780 million is money those residents would have spent on groceries, the rent or other basic needs. Pulling that much money out of the state’s economy can only hurt consumer spending and job creation. By signing this bill without pushing to address its flaws, McCrory has put North Carolina in a vulnerable position.

That brings us back to the governor’s first speech to the state.

The speech mostly echoed his campaign speeches of last fall, focusing on improving the economy, education and the efficiency of government. Disappointingly, it revealed few details of how he would accomplish those goals.

Instead, with his trademark smiling affability, McCrory painted in broad strokes his view of North Carolina. He called it “the greatest state in the union” but one that “cannot live off a brand that needs updating.” He said next year’s budget “provides no new money” but that his administration will focus on tax, education and efficiency reforms plus business and community partnerships to get things done.

McCrory deserves plaudits for raising this important issue in the speech: The need for the state to spend more money on drug courts to divert offenders from the criminal justice system. Republican lawmakers were shortsighted in 2011 when they cut $2 million from the program, forcing some courts to shut down.

The math is simple on this one: You can pay $30,000 a year to put someone in a jail cell, or you can spend about $3,000 to put them in a program that helps many beat their addictions, saving lives and money.

McCrory clearly wanted to emphasize that the state, under his leadership, would use resources effectively and efficiently. But some of his actions have already belied that. One glaring example? He’s sided with Republican lawmakers on rejecting an expansion of Medicaid, even though it would save the state and the rest of us money. North Carolina would get about $2 billion a year from the federal government for the first three years of the expansion – totally paying for it – and billions more after that to pay 90 percent of the costs. The public picks up the tab for health care costs when patients without insurance go to the emergency room. The expansion also would create an estimated 25,000 jobs.

McCrory said Monday he wants North Carolina “to fulfill and exceed its potential.” That’s a goal we can all embrace. But to do that, McCrory needs to offer a vision that lifts all boats, not just some – one that helps, not hurts, the vulnerable. That’s the path to sustainable economic growth. We didn’t hear that Monday. We need to.

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