There was little notice of McCrory's Aug. 26 appearance at Magnolia's restaurant (the announcement from the governor's office went out two hours before the event), but more than a dozen protesters still gathered across the street, criticizing the governor's passage of voting restrictions, rollback of environmental regulations, and legislation that would take away the city's water system (McCrory let the related bill pass without his signature).
Before speaking, McCrory made the rounds while the attendees ate their lunch.He thanked local officials like Buncombe County Commissioner Mike Fryar and joked about missing the Aug. 25 GoTopless rally in downtown Asheville.
McCrory devoted much of his remarks to economic matters, asserting, “We have to become more competitive.” He noted that his push to lower corporate and income tax is meant to help business and bring down North Carolina's unemployment rate, still one of the highest in the nation.
“You and I know people who move out of state for six months and one day to avoid our taxes,” McCrory said. Through lower taxes, “I want them to [draw them back in and] have their permanent residence and business in North Carolina.”
He blasted back at protesters and the media, saying, “I've got every group protesting me, right and left” — though McCrory also said he supported their right to criticize him.
“This is too complex for the journalists,” McCrory said, to laughter from the CIBO members. “They don't have economics degrees, they've not been in business. I respect them greatly, but you get it. This is what we have to do to rebuild our economy. It's not easy. I empathize with the people being impacted, but my goal is to get these people back into jobs.”
McCrory particularly defended a controversial cut in unemployment benefits. He said that the state asked to lower the benefits to the levels of surrounding states, but the federal government refused, as its commitment to backing and extending unemployment benefits during the financial crisis required states to keep their benefits the same.
“Sometimes you have to take short-term pain for long-term results,” McCrory said. “Unemployment compensation was taxing you to death, to bankruptcy ... our unemployment benefits were the ninth-most generous in the nation. You don't read that in some of the newspapers.”
He also said that he planned to increase vocational education, judge colleges based on the amount of jobs they created, and introduce performance pay for teachers, but “the unions are stopping us from doing that.”
North Carolina does not have teachers' unions.
Throughout, McCrory emphasized he was trying to get state government to take a “customer-service” approach and operate like a business, including more power to fire and demote employees.
“Almost every member of my cabinet comes from business,” he said.