So here we go. Today, the state jobless rate for December came out. It went up to 9.2 percent, up one-tenth of a percentage point from November. Around 3 and a half years from now, McCrory will start campaigning for re-election, and one of the things he will be evaluated on by voters will be the jobless rate in the summer and fall of 2016. And whether it is a little less than 9.2 percent, a lot less than 9.2 percent or, God forbid, higher than 9.2 percent.
That isn't entirely fair, because McCrory and North Carolina are at the mercy of a national and even global economy that will have the major role in determining how many of us in the Triangle and around the state are gainfully employed.
But it is far easier for a governor to run for re-election when times are good than when times are bad. Ask former Gov. Bev Perdue, whose poll numbers weren't helped by a mediocre state economy.
My guess is that the unemployment rate will be less than 9.2 percent when McCrory runs for re-election.
But it won't be easy, which I think our new governor realizes. Twice in his inaugural address on Jan. 12th he used the word "pain."
"....[W]e know there is pain right now in those communities. Too many people are out of work. Our state's unemployment is the fifth highest in the country...."
And he said: "We've all felt the pain, and we're continuing to feel it today."
He spoke of "struggling families across the state" and that while North Carolina has enjoyed great success, "....[S]ome wounds that had been camoflaged were uncovered and exposed, especially during this recession."
Most of the speech was a broad-brush vision statement, but some specific ideas emerged.
* McCrory said there are businesses with job openings that can't find qualified applicants. So while we have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, we have jobs that can't be filled with North Carolinians. So, he says, our education system has to help students get "better results," and thus, jobs.
* Government needs to eliminate obstacles to job creation --which he identified as "burdensome taxes, rules and regulations that stifle economic growth."
Both of these initiatives will face opposition, not because they are not good ideas on their face, but because the details will be controversial.
1. School principals are under a lot of pressure to graduate students. Everyone wants to brag on how they've reduced the dropout rate. But are students graduating from high school with adequate reading, writing and math skills? Many of them are faced with taking remedial courses in community colleges. That would be a good place for the governor to start.
Ask to see the statistics on how many students have to take remedial courses, and what high schools those students are coming from. And what's happening in those high schools that is allowing students to get diplomas in the spring only to have to enroll in remedial courses at the community college in the fall semester. These are not people who have been out of school for five or 10 years, and have forgotten how to factor a polynomial. These are kids who just graduated.
If you can graduate from a public high school in North Carolina, but you can't really read or write very well, or do high school math, then our graduation rates are suspect. And so those unfilled jobs that McCrory says he hears about in his travels, the ones that employers can't fill, will remain unfilled.
What he should demand is that our graduation rates are legit, because the diploma means that a student is ready to walk into a college-level course, not a repeat of something he was supposed to learn in high school but didn't.
And the principals won't like this, because they don't want to hold students back and hear about it from parents. But there it is.
2. About those burdensome taxes, rules and regulations that stifle growth. Here is where I hope the governor's years in private business will help him. Be a good negotiator, governor. Businesses frequently complain about regulations and taxes. But some businesses like to privatize profit and socialize costs. There's no virtue in letting them do that.
I recall when I was a young reporter (here comes another young reporter story), and I was covering a particularly nasty dispute over a new set of land-use regulations in a rural county. Some developers liked to build subdivisions that had terrible roads, lousy drainage and inadequate water and sewer systems, because they could make more money by cutting corners. And after they had finished the subdivision, they wanted the county or the state to take over the bad roads, bad drainage and bad utilities. Economist call these externalities; that is, the costs that wind up being shifted to the public.
The county put in new rules that said, no, you can't cut corners. You have to build infrastructure up to new standards. You would have thought the Red Army was marching from Moscow.
I have never thought it was particularly Marxist for the government to keep an eye on externalities, and make sure that the taxpayer doesn't end up paying for them. There are dumb rules and regulations, but there are also rules and regulations that are aimed at making a company take care of things it should take care of. Being a smart regulator means looking out for the citizens, and even though you hear a lot of rhetoric and see a lot of flag waving, a governor needs to ignore that and keep his eye on the ball. That's just good business.
As for taxes, here's another place where the governor needs to be a good negotiator. If business taxes are slashed, will that result in more expansions and more jobs? Or will corporations just keep the money? I am not convinced that companies make expansion decisions based solely on tax rates, within reason. I think they expand because they think they can get more profits.
Maybe I'm wrong, but the governor should take the same skeptical view that a businessman does, when he's considering whether to cut prices. Will lower prices bring in more business, or will it just mean lower sales?
McCrory wants to be pro-business, and I applaud that. It's easy when you're in state government to not understand what it's like to run a business, because state government is never going out of business and doesn't have to ask nicely for our patronage. It just taxes us.
But he should keep his head on a swivel and make sure we're going to get some economic activity from all this regulation-cutting and tax-reduction.