McCrory cuffs Perdue's call for free tuition

Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, the Republican candidate for governor, on Thursday criticized his opponent's plan to offer free community college tuition for N.C. high school graduates.

McCrory jabbed at Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue, the Democratic candidate, as he toured a Charlotte voice and data processing center at PAETEC, a supplier of commercial phone and data services.

Perdue has pledged to offer two years of free tuition to build a more-educated work force as many old-economy, factory-style jobs are being lost to foreign operations, she said.

The mayor said he would support offering targeted scholarships to help fill labor gaps in areas where the state is lacking, such as in mental health. But he doesn't support a broader plan because it would end up costing taxpayers too much, he said.

“It's not free; someone's going to get the bill,” he told the group of employees.

The mini-debate highlights the public policy differences between the two candidates on some basic principles, such as taxes and the size of government.

McCrory agreed to speak and tour the company because the operation is an example of high-skilled jobs that are needed in the state, he said. He applauded PAETEC for buying phone company US LEC in 2007 and not laying off or outsourcing its operations.

The company, based in Rochester, N.Y., has about 400 employees in Charlotte.