McCrory can't dodge editorial's barbs

Jul. 19, 2013 @ 12:28 PM

Gov. Pat McCrory won't win a war of words with The New York Times.

Its editorial last week, "The decline of North Carolina," delivered such a stringing rebuke to Republican policies in our state, and was read by so many people here, that McCrory was compelled to respond. His answer wasn't very effective.

"The North Carolina I'm leading today is on a powerful comeback," he wrote. "After just six months of problem-solving leadership and making the tough decisions that we were elected to do, there is significant movement on vital reforms to tax policy, energy, education, economic development and transportation."

Unfortunately, what critics really see are Republican efforts to curtail access to abortion, restrict voting, deny expanded Medicaid coverage, cut unemployment benefits, exert state authority over cities, accelerate executions and dictate new school board election systems. How does all that contribute to a "powerful comeback" for North Carolina?

His claim of "significant movement on vital reforms" is questionable. The legislature is cutting taxes, not reforming tax policy. Whether other changes have positive effects remains to be seen.

Not that the Times editorial was entirely fair and accurate, either.

"Since (January)," it began, "state government has become a demolition derby, tearing down years of progress in public education, tax policy, racial equality in the courtroom and access to the ballot."

What years of progress? According to National Assessment of Educational Progress reports, public school improvements leveled off about a decade ago. Tax policy was static. "Racial equality in the courtroom" refers to the now-repealed Racial Justice Act, which allowed virtually all Death Row inmates, black or white, to claim they were victims of racial discrimination. But ballot access was improving and could be threatened.

"North Carolina is the only state that has lost long-term federal (unemployment) benefits, because it did not want to pay back $2.5 billion it owed to Washington for the program," the editorial said.

Actually, the cuts were made because North Carolina does want to repay its $2.5 billion debt. It must repay it -- although not as quickly as the governor and legislature insist.

"The State Chamber of Commerce argued that cutting weekly benefits would be better than forcing businesses to pay more in taxes to pay off the debt, and lawmakers blindly went along, dropping out of the federal program."

Business are paying more in taxes, only not as much as critics wanted.

"Though North Carolina has been growing rapidly, it is spending less on schools now than it did in 2007, ranking 46th in the nation in per-capita education dollars. Teacher pay is falling, 10,000 prekindergarten slots are scheduled to be removed, and even services to disabled children are being chopped."

That's mostly true; teacher pay isn't falling but has been static for years.

"They ... want to cut income taxes for the rich while raising sales taxes on everyone else."

The Times is correct about income-tax cuts for the rich (and the not-so-rich). Raising sales taxes on everyone else is not part of the final plan.

In conclusion: "North Carolina was once considered a beacon of farsightedness in the South, an exception in a region of poor education, intolerance and tightfistedness. In a few short months, Republicans have begun to dismantle a reputation that took years to build."

It's possible to draw those conclusions, but the editorial doesn't even hint at why Republicans were elected in the first place: The Democrats weren't doing so well. Our economy had been in a long decline, with unemployment soaring above the national average. Along the way, a string of Democratic elected officials were convicted on corruption charges.

So the Times editorial is misleading to suggest all was fine before voters inexplicably (to the Times) put Republicans in charge. It is correct, for the most part, that the Republicans are making many things worse. On other issues -- whether cutting taxes stimulates job growth, for example -- we have to wait and see.

McCrory could help himself by resisting legislators' drives to limit access to abortion (as he promised), speed up executions, loosen gun laws, make partisan election changes and exert more power over cities.

Forget the Times. Many North Carolina newspapers endorsed McCrory in his run for governor because they believed he would do better. So did most voters. So far, he's disappointing.