Governor McCrory’s press conference today, attended by his full cabinet, was an olive branch to a weary press corps that gets to speak with the Governor on a less than regular basis.
And while there were some good things to come out of the hour-long presser—banning puppy mills, for example, has strong bi-partisan support— the Governor made it clear he is pushing forward with an energy plan that embraces seismic testing, offshore drilling and fracking. How he’ll handle the rest—retaining teachers, Medicaid reform, the nightmare that is the DHHS— is anybody’s guess. Here’s a round-up of the Good, the Bad and the Unclear.
Tackling Addiction/Treating Mental Health
With emergency rooms and jails across the state filled with patients experiencing mental health problems, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos promised tackling mental health reform and substance abuse issues would be “a key priority” in the upcoming months. She wants to consolidate several community-based prevention care networks to work more efficiently to enable the state “more oversight and planning.” An anti-underage drinking initiative is also in the works.
The Puppy Protection Initiative
Animal lovers, rejoice! McCrory will work hard to pass a bill banning puppy mills and ensuring that large-dog breeders secure basic care—food, exercised, veterinary— for the animals they breed. House Bill 930 stalled in the Senate last session after legislators worried it would interfere with agriculture rules, but Gov. McCrory says he and the First Lady (it’s her ‘pet’ project) will be lunching with Senators soon to convince them of the need to get the bill passed. “Even our dog Moe knows the difference between a dog and a pig,” the Governor quipped (his wife’s joke).
The Governor’s office will be reviewing all state-owned buildings and property to ensure workplace health, safety and well-being. No mention of whether state workers will get raises, which, after six years, is probably what they want most.
“Modernizing” the D.M.V.
Fracking is Coming
DENR Secretary John Skvarla said rules are currently being developed for hydraulic extraction, a.k.a. ‘fracking’ by the state’s Mining and Energy Commission. These guidelines should be in place by the end of the year, and he said he hopes to start issuing permits to drill by March, 2015. McCrory said energy production will be key to creating jobs in upcoming years and he met with President Obama and the U.S. Energy Secretary during Obama’s visit last week. You still won’t know what chemicals fracking companies will be using.
Teachers’ Pay Raises
McCrory says teachers’ pay raises will “get done” this year, but after signing off on half a billion dollars in slashes to public education, it’s hard to take the Governor at his word. Nor was he ready to “commit to any goal” or figure for increasing teachers’ pay, but said he will make teachers' pay “competitive.” Meanwhile, North Carolina languishes at 46th in the nation for how much we pay teachers.
Corralling the DHHS/Medicaid Reform
The DHHS has a lot on its plate, the Governor said, including workplace development, Pre-K, a veritable “hodge-podge” of responsibilities. But even he had to ask, is the DHHS too big to succeed? “We’ll have a team to review the DHHS,” McCrory said. “There have been five secretaries of that department in six years. There’s a reason for that.” The Governor said his team will look at the department’s organizational structure, policies, budgets and the state’s failing I.T. systems, while the DHHS itself will tackle the daunting task of trying to reform Medicaid. “We can’t just stand still and stop everything,” McCrory said. “We have to solve the current problems while moving forward”. McCrory said he has “no initial plans” to expand Medicaid in N.C. under the Affordable Care Act, but will “keep the door open for all options in the future.” FYI: Medicaid is still broken.
Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker said she anticipates a comprehensive jobs bill being passed in the short legislative session which will address all manner of things from the Rural Infrastructure Authority to various grants to the film incentive. Per the last point, Decker said legislators are waiting for information from a study on the impact of the film incentive in North Carolina; the tax incentive will lapse at the end of the year if legislators don’t act to renew it. A Department of Transportation project to beautify the state’s highways will employ a million people in the next ten years, and the DOT will work for the next 25 years on a plan to move people and products across the state more efficiently. “We’re looking across all sectors for tools to encourage job growth,” Decker said.