- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Gov. Pat McCrory says the legislature must pass his proposed economic incentives so it can stay competitive with surrounding states for jobs and extend prosperity. House Speaker Tim Moore wants to help rural counties experience the economic recovery, too. And Senate leader Phil Berger says tax rates must continue to fall.

The top Republican leaders in state government speaking Tuesday at a North Carolina Chamber event all tried to look ahead at what’s next to do after a string of positive and negative events.

They announced last week that $2.5 billion in debt owed to the federal government to cover unemployment benefits during the Great Recession has been paid off. And the state is on track for a $400 million surplus this fiscal year. But it was confirmed this week that North Carolina fell short again of landing a prized automobile plant. Volvo Cars announced Monday it would build a $500 million plant in South Carolina.

Here’s a taste what the GOP leaders and Democratic counterparts told the Chamber audience in downtown Raleigh:

MCCRORY’S TIMING: The governor was hopeful action would resume at the Legislative Building on an economic development package that he said is needed to provide a “clear and concise and consistent message” to out-of-state companies considering North Carolina for expansion plans.

The House approved a bill earlier in the session backed by McCrory that in part would give more funds to the Job Development Investment Grant program, the state’s chief job recruiting tool, which is essentially out of money. Senate Republicans have their own plan and want significant changes to the JDIG program.

McCrory said he met with Berger and Moore earlier Tuesday and said he believes the Senate will debate an economic development package in the next two weeks. Berger didn’t address specifics Tuesday on the timing.

MOORE ON VOLVO: The House speaker said he doesn’t believe passing an incentives package before now would have made a difference in the outcome of the Volvo plant’s location. To lure Volvo, South Carolina state and local governments have offered more than $200 million, including the state borrowing money for the site.

For a $500 million plant, Moore said, “that math just doesn’t add up in my book, and I don’t think under any scenario we would be in a position to do that.”

Moore’s comments contrast with state Commerce Secretary John Skvarla, who told The News and Observer of Raleigh on Monday he didn’t think North Carolina “was ever in the game” for the Volvo plant because of the lack of incentives now in place.

Moore said balance needs to exist between helping urban areas thrive and making sure rural areas aren’t left behind.

BERGER ON THE BUDGET: Berger talked about his goals for the upcoming two-year budget. The House wants to pass its version by the end of next week.

The Senate leader said he wants a final budget to set aside hundreds of millions of dollars in both a rainy-day reserve fund and in a fund to help pay for government building repairs and renovations.

Berger also wants $350 million in a reserve fund to help with the transition to a new method to pay for Medicaid services that has yet to be worked out with the House. He also wants to end the annual transfer of more than $200 million in highway funds to the general operating fund.

DEMOCRATS SPEAK: House Minority Leader Larry Hall and Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue also addressed the group.

Blue suggested that North Carolina is missing out on big economic recruitment deals because of things such as low average public school teacher salaries and per-pupil expenditures.

He said people who were part of an effort to bring Mercedes-Benz USA’s corporate headquarters to the Triangle believe the state’s public education system might have worked against them. The headquarters will now be in suburban Atlanta.

“Just the notion that our investment or lack thereof in public schools in this state is scaring away business (is) utterly and completely unacceptable,” Blue said.


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