RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Our 25-year transportation vision connects small towns to economic centers. These connections will make it easier for people to travel to jobs, schools, hospitals and parks. Our 25-year plan also recognizes that even with the new formula, we can only build one out of five projects, and counties and cities tell us they need more.
Therefore, I will request a transportation bond of $1.2 billion that will allow for the quicker construction of projects in the 25-year vision plan. Projects funded through a revenue bond would be the next projects in line, scored under the Mobility Formula, with environmental documents in place so we can begin these projects immediately. Here are a few examples of what we can achieve with the Mobility Formula. This proposed bond as part of our 25-year vision. For our coastal counties we’ll make it easier for the military to move troops and equipment during deployments while helping transport goods at our ports. It will relieve congestion during the busy tourist season and improve emergency evacuation routes.
In the east, we’ll connect eastern North Carolina to the Hampton Roads region in Virginia. In the central part of the state, we’ll focus on relieving interstate congestion bottlenecks and easing the flow of freight. And in the west, we’ll connect the mountains to the coast by improving the flow of traffic from Wilmington to Asheville. Additionally, I will support your efforts to protect and stabilize our existing transportation revenue streams while also looking at funding reform and alternatives for our future transportation and infrastructure needs.
We must also turn our attention to the condition and inefficiency of our state buildings. One of my first clues of the disrepair many of our state properties are in occurred when Ann and I walked up to the 1840 State Capitol for my swearing-in. We noticed the two fountains in front of the Capitol were broken and filled with trash and dirty water. They looked terrible. I asked why they were in such disrepair. I was told, “I don’t know, they’ve been that way for 5 years.” We can no longer afford a culture of neglect and apathy. Turns out all the fountains needed was a little routine maintenance to get the water flowing again. Now, on any day, you can see people having lunch, reading a book or simply enjoying the day next to those beautiful, historic fountains. Like those fountains two years ago, many of our state buildings are suffering from the lack of maintenance. Too many of our buildings are obsolete with broken HVAC units, inadequate insulation, which cost taxpayers a fortune to operate.
At Dorothea Dix, for example, North Carolina taxpayers spend approximately $8.5 million a year to keep the complex operating. It’s fantastic that our capital city is gaining land for a destination park, and the maintenance costs of the Dix complex will finally go off the state’s books. Even better news is that we’ll get $52 million directed toward supporting mental health and the well-being of our citizens.
We have structures all across the state that are a blight to North Carolina’s main streets. They have asbestos insulation, broken elevators, leaky roofs. We’re forced to rent office space in towns where we have buildings that are about half-empty because of the deteriorated shape they’re in. And we have many building that taxpayers are paying for that are essentially being used for storage - very expensive storage. Therefore, I will submit to the General Assembly a $1.2 to $1.4 billion general bond proposal for Project Phoenix. It will revitalize buildings that can be saved, tear down those that can’t and build new, workable and efficient facilities that will be points of pride, and help build economic development opportunities for their communities.
Last session, funds were appropriated to gut the Albemarle Building, which is replete with soiled carpets, broken tables and stained ceiling tiles. And of course, you have done a magnificent job refurbishing this legislative chamber. Now, let’s do the same for other buildings throughout the state. These renovations will boost employee morale, improve safety and increase productivity, while saving the taxpayer’s money.
Additionally, this is an excellent time for these bonds. Interest rates are historically low. And we have the financial capacity to invest and maintain our physical infrastructure. Two years ago, I tasked Secretary Tata to make the DMV more customer-friendly. Back then, people waited in line for hours only to learn that they were in the wrong line. Going to the DMV took so long folks had to take time off from work.
Our DOT leadership team immediately went to work transforming the DMV into an example of excellent customer service by: Opening some offices on Saturday and extending hours during the week. Today, 9 million residents are within a 30-minute drive of a DMV office with extended hours. We will soon be installing self-service kiosks for renewal and/or replacement of driver licenses or ID cards. License plate agencies across the state now accept credit and debit cards, and later this year, DMV offices will too. Most importantly, the DMV now has a culture that treats people like customers.
And the fourth focus will be health care. Our customer-first philosophy must translate into a “Patients First” philosophy for health care, as well. We hear from patients that health care is too hard to navigate. Imagine a hardworking, low-income mother juggling kids, a job, running the household and trying to keep her family healthy. What if that mom could rely on one visit to coordinate the care she needs, whether it’s treatment for an ear ache for a child; an orthopedist to set a broken ankle; or a plan to keep her high blood pressure under control.
Our reform plan - under our Healthy NC initiative - was developed in partnership with doctors, patients and health care providers across the state. It was formulated under the leadership of Secretary Aldona Wos, who’s also a medical doctor. She went out into North Carolina communities large and small talking to the people on the front lines of our health care system. This is physician-led reform. As part of this plan health care providers will share in the responsibility for reducing costs by avoiding unnecessary use of services and working to keep people healthy and out of the emergency room.
Our Healthy NC reform plan puts patients first and controls costs for taxpayers and incentivizes health care providers to coordinate care. North Carolina’s health care community has a long history of solving problems. Let’s empower them to keep us healthy, and continue to make North Carolina an excellent place to practice medicine and produce new discoveries in treatment.
Now last session, we came close to passing Medicaid reform, but progress stalled on the 1-yard-line. Let’s not take another pass this year. Let’s run it up the middle and win a victory for families across North Carolina. As we review continue to review health care options for the uninsured, we are exploring North Carolina-based options that will help those who can’t help themselves, and encourage those who can. If we bring a proposal to cover the uninsured, it will protect North Carolina taxpayers. And any plan will require personal and financial responsibility from those who would be covered. I will only recommend a North Carolina - not a Washington - plan, so that we can put patients first!
Now an issue of critical importance to our young people: underage drinking and addiction. That’s why we have launched a powerful campaign called “Let’s Talk It Out” to start the conversation to stop underage drinking. I hope you’ve seen those poignant television ads! This campaign is being led by one our state’s great leaders, former Lt. Gov. Jim Gardner. Please join me in thanking Jim Gardner.
Providing for the public safety for all of our citizens is our sacred duty. The Department of Public Safety under Secretary Frank Perry and SBI Director B.W. Collier are implementing new, intelligence based initiatives designed to prevent crime before it happens. In North Carolina, not only are we fighting drugs and gangs on our streets, we’re also fighting gangs in our prisons. Corrections officers are confronting the most violent people in our state every minute of their day. Some live under death threats, not only to them, but to their family. Working in this environment comes at a price.
On average, a North Carolina corrections officer was assaulted every 11 hours during 2014. Some were sexual assaults; nearly 300 involved weapons. Retention is a constant challenge. We will be submitting specific proposals. Not only to fight gangs and drugs, but to help our corrections officers who may have the most difficult job in North Carolina.
We also have an obligation to those who risked their lives defending our freedoms. In just two years, our administration has launched successful veteran initiatives including converting military training into college credit or professional licenses, giving credit for military experience when veterans serve as educators, creating driver’s licenses that identify veterans, and working to support a new Veterans Life Center in Butner.
But for some veterans, the transition to civilian life has been difficult. They’ve had problems with addiction, homelessness, getting a job, and struggling with mental health issues.
In 2013, we established a Veterans Treatment Court to help troubled veterans. The court has been an unqualified success. Therefore, working with our judicial leaders, our goal is to establish two more Veterans Treatment Courts in North Carolina to give our veterans a second chance to come home.
In addition to these issues, we will have budget and legislative recommendations to help support our correctional officers, to provide resources for the western crime lab, to protect our pets from abuse in puppy mills, to fight drugs and gangs, to improve mental health, and to prevent addiction just to name a few.
All of our challenges and opportunities require money and resources. Like last session, money will be tight. Department of Revenue Secretary Lyons Gray is updating me every week on the revenue that’s coming in. Every dollar counts because much of our spending is already obligated even before we sit down to write a new budget. State worker pensions and health care costs for current and retired state employees alone account for nearly 22 percent of our spending.
So here’s what we’re going to do to find continued savings in our current operations.
Workers compensation claims have cost North Carolina taxpayers $896 million during the past six years. That’s about $150 million annually, which would have paid for a 2 percent pay raise for state employees very year.
We all want to pay legitimate claims and give injured employees the best medical care we can. More importantly, under the excellent leadership of Office of State Human Resources Director Neal Alexander, we are increasing worker safety training - not only to reduce worker accidents - but prevent them in the first place.
Our examination of workers compensation estimates that 40 percent of workers costs are related to abuse or outright fraud.
To take hold of costs and to get people back to work sooner, I am signing and submitting an executive order placing the oversight of workers’ compensation under the Office of State Human Resources.
One of our first priorities will be to responsibly settle cases that are over five years old, an action that could save taxpayers up to $17 million over the next two years. And we will launch a major effort to stop fraud and abuse dead in its tracks.
Many of you are familiar with our NCGEAR efficiency program. And by the way, I want commend our new budget director Lee Roberts for the outstanding job he’s doing with NC Gear. Based on some of the NC Gear findings, I will take additional actions to streamline our operations, not only because they save money, but because they make sense.
For instance, the North Carolina Zoo and state aquariums, museums and our state parks will move from the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources to the department that manages attractions as part of its mission, Cultural Resources.
Over the years, the Department of Administration has become a home for various divisions and agencies. We will begin to transfer a number of these agencies from the Department of Administration to areas where they are better aligned.
Now one area where we’ve found a lot of inefficiency, a lot of inefficiency, is in information technology. What we’ve found is that the piecemeal approach we’ve taken during the past decade to information technology has had disastrous results. Seventy-four percent of the State’s IT projects have come in over budget and behind schedule.
Who would hire anyone or a company with that track record?
We found that the state has 40 data centers with over 1,000 different computer systems. That’s hardly an example of efficiency. We discovered that obvious opportunities to pool the purchasing power of several agencies are often bypassed.
My administration is going to insert accountability into out IT operations by proposing a new cabinet-level Department of Information Technology. The IT professionals throughout the Cabinet agencies and departments of the Executive Branch will report to the new department. However, they will remain housed with their secretaries to provide in-house expertise and service.
I want to thank my Chief Information Officer Chris Estes for doing the groundbreaking work on getting the new department and efficiencies launched.
At a time when so many servicemen and women are coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq through North Carolina, we must have an efficient and well-coordinated process in place to meet the needs of active duty personnel and veterans. These services are scattered across many areas of state government with no accountability, causing delay, frustration, and poor customer service.
Thanks to the Marine-Corps dedication of my Veterans Affairs Director Ilario Pantano and the leadership of Department of Administration Secretary Bill Daughtridge, we have made tremendous improvements serving our state’s veterans.
But we are going to do more to strengthen our Veteran Affairs and the Office of my Military Adviser. I am proposing the creation of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. This department will be responsible for, protecting and fighting our military bases, promoting the health and safety of our veterans and military families, helping our veterans get jobs, and working with the unique needs of base communities. I have asked my military affairs adviser, Gen. Cornell Wilson, to spearhead this new initiative.
The military also has a special place in the heart of my wife Ann McCrory. She has hosted numerous events for military families at the Executive Mansion, outside of the cameras. Her knowledge of the sacrifice made by our military families comes naturally. She was born on a military base, and her father, Colonel William “Flash” Gordon, was a P-47 Army Air Corps pilot in World War II.
This evening, we are very fortunate to have in attendance some of the leaders of the more than 100,000 men and women serving their nation at throughout North Carolina.
However, I want to give a special welcome to Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson, Commander of the 18th Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg. And until December, he was a deputy commanding general in Afghanistan.
During his deployment, he honored North Carolina by displaying this flag, which has flown over our own state capitol at the Kabul International Airport where it was photographed with diplomats from the 48 countries that comprised the international coalition.
Gen. Anderson brought this flag back home. In fact, he wrote a little note on the back. Gen. Anderson brought our flag home and he brought our troops home. Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson. My vision for North Carolina is to have the best of everything. Think about it, we have beautiful mountains, big city skylines and we have the best beaches in the nation. But it’s more than that. We must have both big city opportunities and small town quality of life choices from the mountains to the coast. We have the best of both Mayberry and metropolis. When we unleash our resources in education, transportation, energy and technology, and commit to greater government efficiency and affordability, our state will be second to none. We will be the role model for the nation, not only for today but for future generations.
To continue our momentum of success, we must be innovative while maintaining the basic values that make our state great. We must continue to cultivate a culture that encourages building, growing, producing and inventing things. And we’re protecting our environment to preserve the natural beauty that draws visitors from around the world to our attractions and state park system, which this year is celebrating its 100th anniversary.
As my father often said when he was a city councilman in Ohio and later, a civic leader in Greensboro: “We must walk the fine line between our continued economic prosperity while also protecting the quality of life that brought us here.” I have no doubt the people of North Carolina can live up to that challenge. We are resilient, strong, diverse, strategic, and we have already proven that we can deal with crises.
As we have grown to become the ninth most populous state in the nation, let’s continue together to fulfill our potential, and create opportunity for all of North Carolina. So I ask you to join me and let us together achieve the best for everyone, everywhere. May God continue to bless the people of North Carolina.
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