Gov. Pat McCrory does not plan to call a special session to address new energy bills, but will be pushing hard for new ways for North Carolina to develop energy, including fracking, he said Thursday in a wide-ranging interview with WNCN.
The General Assembly did not pass a bill specifically allowing hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the last session, despite McCrory wanting the state to explore the measure.
The General Assembly is not expected to return until the "short session" in 2014.
"But in the meantime," McCrory said in an interview with WNCN anchor Penn Holderness. "I'm going to be recruiting energy companies to North Carolina. And I'm going to be setting up a process where we can possibly do both natural gas exploration inland and exploration offshore. And be ready to pass a bill."
Asked about the importance of making sure such energy exploration is safe, McCrory said, "Absolutely. But we are going to have safe policies as a part of that. You and I are both filling up our gas tanks with gas coming from somewhere. So we're hypocrites if we're not willing to do it ourselves."
"I went to Houston, Texas, earlier this year to meet with these companies. We can sit on the sidelines and remain a high unemployment state, or we can get involved in the energy business and put people back to work and participate in the country's energy independence. I want to do the latter."
In the interview with WNCN anchor Penn Holderness, McCrory said he wished he could pay teachers more, explained why he vetoed two bills, defended big raises for two staffers and had tough words for The New York Times and other media outlets that have been critical of his administration's policies.
On why he vetoed two bills:
"We [the General Assembly and the Governor] agree on about 98 percent of the bills. I actually threatened the veto on some of the other bills that were going to be passed and we stopped them. These two bills, the Speaker [Thom Tillis] and the President [Phil Berger] aren't surprised, because I warned them if they passed I would veto them.
"One of them, the drug testing, I think is an overreach that was unfunded and frankly can't be implemented in a consistent way, both legally and in a fair way.
"With a regard to e-verify, I'm a firm believer in immigration laws and giving North Carolina workers the chance for jobs first, especially when you are the fifth highest unemployment rate in the country. E-verify helps insure that the people being hired for those jobs are legal. And I think we ought to continue that. And the bill that passed, it was disguised as a bill to help farmers but it way beyond the farming community."
On the fact that teachers will not receive pay raises this year:
"It's inexcusable that teachers have been treated this way. I wanted to give them a pay raise this year but frankly I inherited a financial mess. The budget by my predecessor was underestimated by over $550 million because of Medicaid cost overruns. That could have been 3 percent pay raises for every teacher in North Carolina. But I can't just bring money down out of the air because of that. I'm paying the bills and I'm not doing false accounting. I'm doing true accounting for the first time in a decade in North Carolina government. And if I can find money I want to get it to the teachers and I want to get it to the teachers who are making a difference.
"I believe in performance pay. I believe in rewarding those teachers who are making the biggest difference. When I went to high school and when I got my teaching degree and even student-taught at North Rowan High School, you could tell who the good teachers were, who the mediocre teachers were and who the teachers were who shouldn't even be in teaching. And frankly, the students knew, the parents knew and the principals knew. I think there should be some sort of assessment of the best from the best, and reward them.
"And I'd love to have teachers make a heck of a lot more money. I've already sat down with my budget director and my education advisor and said, ‘Let's look for money for our teachers.' In the past two weeks, I'm beginning a program to get $10-30 million to reward what we call master teachers. It's a small step but it's a way to reward the best of the best.
"The second thing I'm attempting to do is, right now I think teachers are being over-tested. We're testing the teachers and we're testing the students. It's over 100 tests. I'm doing a major assessment and I hope to have an announcement shortly on eliminating many of the tests we are giving. Now we still need to do tests, but there's duplication, there's overlap, there's inefficiency. We need to let teachers teach again."
But can you understand how it makes teachers angry to hear that two staffers recently received 35 percent raises?
"That's a little misleading. They got promotions. They were actually moved over to areas that frankly a lot of older people applied for, too. But frankly, these two young people are very well qualified and they are being paid for jobs at which that's the pay rate for that job.
"We have university presidents making $400,000, we have coaches making a lot. Listen, I wish we could have fair pay across the board, but to pick out two pays. I have a Medicaid director who makes $200,000 a year, but she's running a $12 billion budget. I've got cabinet members making less than high school principals and they are running $10 billion budgets.
"So you can pick and choose."
Specifically, what about the $85,000 salary for Ricky Diaz, the communications director for DHHS?
"He was in my office as a communications person, working as a lower level communications person in the Governor's office. My health and human services person was so impressed with him and wanted him to move to Health and Human Services and head up that whole process.
"His responsibilities became much larger. By the way, I even questioned it. I said, ‘How can we give a young guy this.' But I can't discriminate based on age. Just because a young person does a better job than an older person who made have gotten that job. I went, ‘That's not right either.' …
"It's sad. I'd like teachers to make a lot more. I'd like teachers to make what TV anchors are paid, too.
Penn Holderness: "Are you sure about that?"
"Yeah, I do. Most TV anchors are paid more than teachers. They are. So I can apply that to a lot of professions. We've got to show more respect in the state and the nation for the teaching profession – and reward the best of the best. And that's my goal."
"Listen, you're talking to someone who got their teaching degree at Catawba College. I have great admiration for teachers. My sister taught here in Raleigh for 20 years. I've got a sister-in-law who's lived with my wife and I for the last two years because of her difficulty living in a separate home because of her teacher's salary. Believe me, I'd love to give my sister-in-law a pay raise, for several reasons."
A lot of teachers WNCN has spoken with ask, ‘When are you coming to our classroom?'
"I'm going to be traveling the state constantly, visiting the schools. And I was visiting the schools before, too. The schools are under a tremendous amount of pressure now. If we don't have good schools, we're not going to have good employers.
"One thing I'm proud of in education is we now have a vocational pathway to success, not just a four-year college pathway to success. That was one of the first bills I signed. And that idea came from a teacher, a shop teacher in Moore County who said we've got some kids who can build and make and repair things and yet we make them pass and fail a classic English class. They're not interested in that. They want to get a job where they can fix and repair and make things. So the first bill I signed was for vocational training.
"The other thing I'm doing is I've put together the educational cabinet, which my predecessor had not done for three years.
"And one thing I want to mention to correct the record. The K through 12 budget this year will be the biggest budget for K through 12 education in our state's history. We did not cut the K-12 budget. You wouldn't know it by what you read and what the signs say. There's an increase in the K-12 budget. We've got in the budget the hiring of 1,800 new teachers this year. And if the districts want to convert those into teacher assistants, they can. That's more than my predecessor did and I'm proud of that.
"Where we had cuts was in the community college system because enrollment was down."
What about extra pay for teachers with master's degrees?
"The overall budget was increased but within that budget we had to reduce other programs and make some difficult decisions so we could hire more teachers. And we're hiring 1,800 more teachers. And that's what the state needed. But within that budget we had to make some difficult decisions.
"Now I hope that we can re-instate the master's pay, but not make pay increases dependent upon whether or not you've got a master's degree. That doesn't always determine that you're a better teacher.
"I think it should be a combination of what your education is and how you perform in the classroom."
You've been sparring with The New York Times and media? How reputable is the media in your opinion? How much stock do you put in that?
"They are extremely biased and at times very inaccurate. The New York Times was very inaccurate in their assessment. I figure when The New York Times and Bill Maher attack you, I figure I must be doing something right. What I'm worried about is changing the status quo of North Carolina. I inherited a state with a broken budget and the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the country. Now, there are a lot of people who are fighting to keep the same policies that got us here. I don't agree with that. If you keep the same policies, you are going to have the same results.
"I'm not worried about The New York Times. I'm worried the people who are unemployed and can't find jobs in this state. I'm worried about the teachers and I'm worried about the education in North Carolina. We've got to fix it.
"It's not going to happen in seven months. But we're initiating policies that I think will have long-term sustainable solutions to making us competitive, not only with the neighboring states but with the world."
"We've got small towns that are dying on the vines here. I disagree with the people who are protesting to keep the same policies. I'm going to change the policies that didn't work and hopefully strengthen the policies that did work. I didn't come here to live in this beautiful home. I came here to rebuild North Carolina and have a Carolina comeback. … I'm an outsider who's coming in here to Raleigh and a lot of the insiders don't like an outsider changing things."
Do you plan to call a special session to evaluate energy bills?
"I frankly hope the legislature doesn't come in to override my vetoes but if they do, I hope they come in, vote and get out of town and let me concentrate on operating state government."
"One of my main jobs is the operation of state government. That's why I'm vetoing two of the bills right now. They weren't thinking about the operations."
"The energy, I hope to get in the short session. But in the meantime, I'm going to be recruiting energy companies to North Carolina. And I'm going to be setting up a process where we can possibly do both natural gas exploration inland and exploration offshore. And be ready to pass a bill."
"Absolutely. But we are going to have safe policies as a part of that. You and I are both filling up our gas tanks with gas coming from somewhere. So we're hypocrites if we're not willing to do it ourselves."
"I went to Houston, Texas, earlier this year to meet with these companies. We can sit on the sidelines and remain a high unemployment state or we can get involved in the energy business and put people back to work and participate in the country's energy independence. I want to do the latter."