The Republican candidate for governor, all comfy in a checked shirt and no
tie, visited The N&O today to answer questions from the editorial and
news departments. I had a dentist appointment (boo) so I missed the
first 15 minutes, but here’s a look at what he had to say, though, as
always, this is NOT VERBATIM.
I’ve been getting major feedback from DOT and DENR and county governments. I’m telling you what they’re telling me. When you hear from customers, you better be listening.
The other customer we’re hearing from is this. I was doing a press conference, and the CEO of Coca-Cola consolidated said (to the governor of Virginia), do you know all of our trucks are registered in Virginia? Because your DMV is better to work with than the North Carolina DMV. Even though they’re headquartered here! What changes do we need to make? Does it make rational sense? These are customers
talking. I call everyone a customer. We better wake up to it.
The city of Charlotte touches South Carolina, so our customer has a choice to move 100 yards down the road and get a tax rate that’s half-a-cent cheaper, and they do.
Q: What if anything can the governor do to stem the tide of losing the best blue-collar jobs?
This is the disconnect that I’m also seeing. Some of those counties like Scotland and in the Pembroke area, where you have unemployment at 15, 16 or 17 percent, I’ve visited manufacturing, and they have job openings. They can’t find qualified people for the jobs. I’m hearing this over and over again. Consistent feedback in the West Piedmont and in the East. They’re having a troubling time finding the talent in
North Carolina, not for college-educated jobs, but for the maintenance type jobs, the AC work. They say they can’t find it. That’s across the board. As governor, you’ve got to go to educational places and say, are we teaching the right things? You go to employers and say, what do you need? I visited a major plant who has openings. This is one reason, I got this idea from a teacher in Pinehurst. He said, I’m a bricklaying teacher in Monroe County. I’ve got some great kids learning how to be great bricklayers, they’ve got the skills, but they flunk out of classic English, and they leave school. We’ve got to have a vocational track. I’m hearing this from teachers right and left. We’re pushing one type of curriculum.
I’m a big community college advocate, but right now our formula for funding is based on how many students you have, no on what you’re teaching. The tendency is, we’re teaching a lot of nontechnical courses. They get rewarded for that because they get more students. It’s gotta change.
Q: Should there be a continued role for community colleges as junior colleges as well as techinical training?
Yes, I’ve never said it shouldn’t be. I’m sad that Mr. Dalton keeps repeating that. I think the core function of community college is technical and vocational training. It was supposed to help supply employees. It should be a main focus, but I never said it should be the only focus. This is part of that silo where we are teaching transfer-to-college courses. Why don’t we combine that effort? If community colleges are doing it cheaper, let’s break down that silo and transfer funding from one silo to another and make it cheaper for the universities. The same thing with vocational things. I hate to say it, but in community college, you can take golf lessons. Right now, I don’t think there’s a great need for golfers. It’s subsidized. We’re shutting down shop work classes, auto work, yet you have drama and golf. And basketball. That’s not what our employers are looking for right now. That’s where I question us becoming a junior college. This costs a lot of money, and the money is not there to build gymnasiums and the feeders when you’re shutting down technical courses. The presence of these courses are rewarded. They get more money for doing
these things, but that’s not what employers are looking for right now.
Two-thirds of people going to community college are female, yet few of them are going into technical courses. We’re losing the technical male right now. I don’t want to say this in gender terms, but we’ve got employers looking for this right now. In rural areas, it’s really needed right now. I was in Roanoke Rapids the other day. I saw a city that’s seen from very difficult times. There’s a paper plant there
that said we need talent. I talked to a major employer at the Transpark three days ago. He said we still have a tough time finding the workers, even in an area with high unemployment, the people who can repair things.
The dilemma you’re having in these plants, it’s a very viable industry. Don’t give up on them. They’re hanging in there. The dilemma is you have a lot of guys in their 50s and 60s, they’re retiring. The dilemma is they’re not finding the 20 and 30-year-olds to take those jobs.
Q: Talk us through your tax recommendations.
What I’ve said is that at a minimum we want to be competitive with our neighbors, with South Carolina and Virginia. Tennessee is a whole other ballpark. What I want to do is look at other models that’s our competition. I see the income tax and the corporate tax being our biggest hindrance in corporate recruitment. We’re giving huge future tax credits, and those aren’t free. Those are off-the-books liabilities that no one’s talking about. It’s going to come back to us sooner or later.
There’ve been three or four proposals in the past 10 or 15 years, by Democrats I might add, that looked at how to revamp our tax system. Another trend I’ve seen in North Carolina the past 10 years, because of our income tax structure, we’re losing three sets of customers. We’ve turned a blind eye to it. One is the successful business person in their 40s or 50s or 60s who sells a business and retires and gets a
cash payout. They’re moving to Florida before June 1 to avoid our income tax. They moved to Naples. They moved to Palm Beach. These are top business people we all know. We lost that potential new investment, the equity of potential leadership in our state, leaving to avoid a large tax hit. A Wilmington executive just moved his business to Florida because the income tax was not competitive here
and his competitors were taking advantage of that. We better start looking at that.
Another issue I’m worrying about, the 20 to 30-year-old entrepreneur. I’m finding them out there, starting up a software business or a new logistics business. They are brilliant. Just brilliant. They start up a business, sell it, start up a new business. The dilemma is our tax structure. If you start a business in North Carolina, you lose a chunk of money. I’m really concerned about it. I want to get a synergy of startup people. They’re having a tough time finding capital here, too.
The third group of people is our military. People running for governor don’t campaign on the military basis. They don’t vote in North Carolina. They live in Florida, but they are our residents. It’s a very well kept secret.
Q: What about a tax on services?
I don’t know yet. I’m not going to support any new tax to gain new revenue. I’m going to look at three or four different plans to see what the impact is. I’m going to have to get bipartisan support. I need to get business feedback on how to make it revenue neutral.
I want to look at the internet tax, look at the Best Buy model. They do their shopping in there and then order it by the Internet. I’m going to look at tax loopholes. I’m going to look at credits we’re currently giving. If we do tax reform, do we need the tax credits on the books? That’s why it’s hard to say a tax on services because we also have a lot of tax credits.
Q: When would you go to the leglislature with a tax plan?
I’d have to work very closely with Tillis and Berger or whoever’s in charge, along with businesses. It might take two years. It might be a progression instead of all at once. I’d have to look at the risks of immediate enactment vs. a gradual implementation. It could be a five or 10-year implementation, but at least you’d let customers know what to expect.
If I have a chance to do it, we’re going to do it within the first two years. I understand political momentum and having a honeymoon and having a bully pulpit to make it happen. Longer then you get into the politics of future elections. When I first became mayor of Charlotte, I initiated things very quickly because I realize you only have a certain amount of time to do it.
My goal is revenue neutral. On both sides. Either way we may have to shrink government because of the current deficit. When you owen $2.8 billion to the federal government, when you owe that much money and you still have unfunded liabilities regarding the health insurance for current retired employees, and I still have concerns about the pension program, is it fully financed? Those are issues I’m still gonna have to deal with, which will require government to do more with less.
One of my goals is to grow the economy. If this plan is successful, it may be a signal that we’ll invest more in North Carolina grown business and therefore we’d get more revenue. Years out ... that’s what we’ve got to quit thinking (that things have to happen now). Six or seven or eight years comes very quickly in a city or a state. You’ve got to start. Maybe the next governor will benefit from it, but it’s
fine with me. I’ve got to be realistic. Businesses are making longer term plans, not
short-term plans. They’re looking at the next 10 to 20 years, so that’s the way our leader has to think.
As mayor of Charlotte, when building the transportation system, I thought I’d be thrown out of office when it opened up, thought it’d take six or seven years, but it started working almost immediately. It exceeded my expectations. I got lucky there.
We used that long term as a selling tool. Right now, what do we have to sell? What are we showing potential customers? What’s our plan for the next 20 years regarding transportation, education, taxes?
Q: Should the public be able to check to see whether a business has purchased workers comp insurance?
Yes, workers comp and unemployment insurance are two issues the next governor is going to have to deal with. A lot of people are going around the rules. We’ve gotta close it. It’s causing a lot of disconcern among employers, with some paying it, some not. It’s giving a competitive advantage to those who are not.
I don’t think it’s fair for the businesses who are doing it the right way. But even for a business doing it the right way, they’re giving me strong feedback that we need more reform. There’s abuse in workers comp. It’s very hard to challenge a workers comp case. It’s almost not worth it anymore, it’s such a lengthy process. I’ve gotten much feedback that there’s a lot of abuse. Unemployment is another area I get a lot of feedback. They say we offer jobs to people on unemployment and the person says I might stay on unemployment a little big longer. They’re getting cash under the table. That’s a broken system there.
I think we need to revise the whole unemployment system. We have the fourth or fifth most generous system, and we have the fourth or fifth highest unemployment. I want to offer incentives for people to get off it. I don’t know whether there’s a parallel.
Q: Would you be a rubberstamp to a Republican legislature?
I find it kind of ironic that you never heard that from him when he was budget chairman and we had Democratic control for a long time, when Tony Rand and Basnight were running the state. You need to look for consistency in that kind of feedback. Look at my track record. If we have tax reform, we’re going to have to find a bipartisan group to get it through. I’m going to have to find a coalition of both Republicans and Democrats to get through tax reform.
Q: Any significant issue you know you disagree with the Republican leaders on?
I can think of two right now. One is a strongly disagree with billboard regulation. That was bipartisan. Walter Dalton agreed with that. I disagreed with that passing. I also think there needs to be some legislation looked at for more transparency of hospital bills. We’re going to have to look at that much more. That seemed to be
pushed to the side. I didn’t think a lot of their midnight sessions, either. You can’t do business after midnight. We shouldn’t have midnight sessions or surprise things put on the agenda at the last second. If you look at my history as mayor, I vetoed things. I used the veto well over 20 times. And it was a bipartisan veto. Usually my
veto override had nothing to do with partisan politics. I only failed on three vetoes. I vetoed something one time that had a 10 to 1 vote. I changed public opinion and changed the City Council vote in less that two weeks.
Q: Will you have more than two press conferences a month? Open your schedule?
I was an open book as mayor. I expect you guys to see alot of me. I’m not going to be a guy who sits in the office. I’m gonna be out and about.
Q: Sixteen years ago, this state had a great mojo going. I hate that North Carolina has such high unemployment. There’s this damp cloud over the state. How do you break the state out of the psychological funk it’s in?
I agree. We’re seeing it. There’s a funk. That’s where I’m talking about the brand. I think the executive leader has got to show energy, show what their plan is and have a strategy to get there and you gotta have a governor who sells it. And you don’t sell it just inside the Beltline here. You go out and sell it.
Governor Hunt and I shared a platform to get mass transit going. After Hunt left, Easley and Perdue were just extremely partisan. Extremely partisan. I have no idea what their vision for the state was. Everything was reactive. Everything was very closed and very within the Beltline. There was no outreach to local officials or to join in with leaders of the state.
I have never been to the governor’s mansion before. I’ve never been invited. I’ve never been inside the gates. As mayor of the largest city, I was never invited. I’ve been to the governor’s office once and I had to force myself in with a coalition of mayors. I was in the governor’s office maybe five minutes, when Easley was governor. The longest meeting I ever had with Easley was 10 minutes. The only one worse than that was John Edwards. With Edwards, I only ever got 2 minutes, and one of those was on a plane. He changed seats before the plane took off.
Q: What do you offer that Dalton doesn’t offer?
I don’t know Mr. Dalton all that well. You’re asking me about someone I barely know. He’s gone all over the place on several issues, including the 15 percent sales tax that he now says he doesn’t need. The best way to look at someone’s leadership is to look at what they did in the past.
I think I also have the skills in the spirit of Martin or Hunt who can go out and sell it to the rest of the state and sell it to the rest of the nation.
I’m not going to cut down the other candidate. I’m doing something unique in politics. I have not run one negative TV or radio ad. Not one. Believe me, some consultants say they’re going to burn you on this like they did the last time. But I think you can govern more effectively if you get elected based on what you want to do rather than cutting down the other candidate. I want to show the rest of the
nation that you can run a positive campaign. I’m being torn to shreds. My ethics have never been challenged. That’s one thing I’m proud of. You have a headline today that implies I did something unethical. If you know something I did unethical, you let me know.
This new attack mode to attack by questions insted of attack by facts is very bad for