CARY — Gov. Pat McCrory on Wednesday made an appearance at the Cary Chamber of Commerce’s annual banquet. Speaking before a crowd of about 400, McCrory celebrated the pending arrival of insurance giant MetLife, touted his focus on government operations and hinted at potential changes to the state’s implementation of Medicaid.
He took the stage alongside state Sen. Tamara Barringer, who represents Cary, for what was billed as a conversation between the two. For just more than half an hour, Barringer, a Republican, asked softball questions and praised McCrory, who gave his take on a heated first seven months in office.
Throughout the presentation, McCrory drew parallels between himself and the business people in the room, frequently referring to constituents and corporations as “customers,” and emphasizing his CEO-like role.
“When I’m in Raleigh, to your surprise maybe, I spend over 50 percent of my day on operational issues,” he said. “Does that sound familiar?”
McCrory also highlighted areas of government he’d like to change. He suggested that poor communication between computer systems hindered the state, as did the hundreds of days of appeals that can ensue when the state government moves to fire an employee.
He frequently returned to one refrain: “You don’t read about it in the newspaper,” referring to his efforts to improve the operation of state government.
Those changes could include privatizing part of the commerce department, a move McCrory said could draw more companies like MetLife, whose Cary office begins construction this month. He also said the state should look to extend the economic development of major metropolitan areas to outlying towns – for example, by drawing Roxboro, Tarboro and Pittsboro into the Triangle area as “spin-offs.”
The governor and Barringer alike praised recent tax reforms, both speaking to hours of intense discussion they shared.
McCrory also joked about political strife in the capital. When Barringer said she would take a moment to “brag on” McCrory, the governor said, “I need that today.”
He apparently was referring to the criticism and rebukes he has exchanged with the Republican-led legislature amid vetoes and veto overrides.
Late in the presentation, McCrory promised “controversial” proposals to change the state’s Medicaid system. Overruns in Medicaid costs are a huge burden on the state and have drained funding for education, he said.
“Our Medicaid system, during my first six months in office ... went $535 million over budget, based upon the projections my predecessor set,” he said, calling those projections “a false budget.”
Citing issues with federal regulations, “a lack of waivers from the feds, and frankly, some of the politics within Raleigh here,” McCrory said he wanted to change the state’s implementation of the federal health program for people with low incomes.
“... I’m going to have to bring up some fairly controversial proposals to change Medicaid, or we’re going to continue to have some very, very serious issues here in North Carolina,” McCrory told a crowd of business owners, corporate representatives and elected officials.
“That’s coming in the next three, four months. I’ll probably introduce them while the legislature’s out of town, between now and May,” he said, drawing laughs.
Changes to Medicaid, he said, are “the way we’re going to get raises to the teachers.”
Kenney: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @KenneyOnCary