Fayetteville Observer – Updated: February 5, 2015
RALEIGH - Gov. Pat McCrory used his biennial State of the State address on Wednesday to announce plans to create a N.C. Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
Gov. Pat McCrory delivers his State of the State address Wednesday to a joint session of the General Assembly. AP photo
And he touched on, carefully, the controversial issue of expanding Medicaid government health insurance to hundreds of thousands of lower-income North Carolinians - a concept anathema to many of his fellow Republicans because of its connection to Democratic President Obama’s Affordable Care Act program.
Those were two of numerous issues McCrory hit on during his 80-minute speech before a joint session of the N.C. House and N.C. Senate.
The proposed Military and Veterans Affairs Department is intended to assist the state’s military communities from Fort Bragg to Camp Lejeune and its many veterans.
“At a time when so many servicemen and women are coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq through North Carolina, as I mentioned before, we must have an efficient and well-coordinated process in place to meet the needs of active duty personnel and veterans,” McCrory said. “These services are right now scattered across many areas of state government with no accountability, causing delay, frustration, and sometimes poor customer service.”
The new Department of Military and Veterans Affairs would:
- Protect and fight for the state’s military bases.
- Promote the health and safety of veterans and military families.
- Help veterans get jobs.
- Work with the unique needs of base communities.
After announcing this plan, McCrory recognized Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson, the commander of Fort Bragg, who was one of his guests.
On the issue of Medicaid expansion, McCrory said he is exploring options that will help uninsured people get coverage. “If we bring a proposal to cover the uninsured, it must protect North Carolina taxpayers,” he said. And any plan must require personal and financial responsibility from those who would be covered.”
Debt request: The governor said he’ll ask the legislature to approve a $1.2 billion bond for transportation projects, and he’ll propose $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion in bonds for broader infrastructure needs.
Economy: McCrory asked lawmakers in coming weeks to approve his “NC Competes” job recruitment proposal to help his administration compete effectively with other states seeking to land big companies.
But he didn’t spell out exactly what he would be asking lawmakers to approve, save for reviving a tax credit for entities that renovate historic buildings.
Workers’ injuries: The governor said workers’ compensation costs within state government - $896 million over six years - are too high. He said they can be controlled partly by weeding out abuse or fraud.
The six lawmakers who serve the Fayetteville-Fort Bragg area found a lot to like in McCrory’s speech, but wondered about where he wants to get the money to pay for his initiatives.
“I think it’s some very good ideas to move our state forward,” said Republican state Sen. Wesley Meredith of Fayetteville. “I’d be very interested in seeing the governor’s budget on how he’s going to fund all these things.”
The military department is attractive to Meredith, a veteran, and to Republican House Rep. John Szoka of Cumberland County, a veteran.
“It’s probably long overdue, particularly in this state, with our military bases and the number of veterans we have I think it should get that level of attention,” Szoka said.
Air Force veteran and Democratic state Sen. Ben Clark of Rockfish also praised the military department proposal, and he liked many of the governor’s other ideas.
But he questioned whether McCrory will be able to persuade his fellow Republicans in the legislature to approve them. “It would be very good for the state if a lot of those things are put into place,” Clark said. “But saying them and actually getting them done are two completely different things.”
Democratic Rep. Marvin Lucas of Spring Lake described McCrory’s plans as “ambitious” but, too, said the legislature’s Republicans will be disinclined to approve more spending and debt. Lucas wanted McCrory to call for a Medicaid expansion and also for pay raises for experienced teachers.
Rep. Elmer Floyd, a Fayetteville Democrat, wondered what social program spending might be cut to pay for McCrory’s initiatives.
“The pie’s going to be the same, so you’re going to have to cut somewhere,” he said. “I just don’t see an influx of new revenue coming in.”
Rep. Rick Glazier, a Fayetteville Democrat, said he often applauded McCrory’s speech. But he and other Democrats did not applaud when Republicans gave a standing ovation when McCrory announced that the state had dramatically cut its unemployment insurance debt. The state cut unemployment benefits in order to reduce rapidly rising costs for businesses.
“We paid off that debt on the backs of the unemployed in this state, and that is tragic,” Glazier said.
This article originally appeared on the Fayettville Observer’s website, Wednesday, February 4, 2015, and was updated on Thursday, February 5, 2015.
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