Education, environment, jobs: Where does the next governor stand on WNC issues?

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Carolina Public Press asked gubernatorial candidates Walter Dalton, Barbara Howe and Pat McCrory where they stood on issues affecting Western North Carolina. Howe did not respond, but Daton and McCrory offered opinions and plans on the environment, education and jobs and the economy.

On Nov. 6, voters will elect the next governor of North Carolina. To help gauge where they stand on issues affecting Western North Carolina, Carolina Public Press asked North Carolina gubernatorial candidates Democrat Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, Libertarian Barbara Howe and Republican Pat McCrory where they stand on three high-interest topics: early childhood education, job creation and environmental regulation and policy.

We asked each candidate to limit each of his or her responses to no more than 350 words. Here are the questions we posed followed by the candidates’ responses. The order in which we have presented the candidates’ answers is based on the alphabetical order of the candidates’ last names.

Carolina Public Press did not receive responses from Howe.

Early childhood education

Carolina Public Press recently reported that more than one out of every four children age 5 and under in Western North Carolina is spending time in early childhood programs. And in another Carolina Public Press report, administrators of early childhood-education programs across the region say they are struggling to operate within new state budget-related funding guidelines.

  • If you are elected governor, what would you do with regards to early education programs in Western North Carolina and statewide? Would you seek to increase, decrease or keep the same levels of funding for early childhood education programs? And what would be the reason(s) you’d seek to increase, decrease or keep those funding levels the same?

Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton’s response: “When Republicans took control of the Legislature, they cut education funding and chose to oppose all efforts to raise money for public schools. Their budget deeply slashed funds for early childhood education. That’s wrong, and, as governor, I have a plan to restore the cuts to education. North Carolina is a model state for early childhood education (ECE) programs, with some education experts declaring our system as one of the best examples of what states can do to ensure a positive future for children thought at-risk for struggling in school. Quality ECE programs help improve kindergarten readiness for children of various socio-economic backgrounds. Data on the state’s Smart Start program that provides child care, health care services and family support for young children from birth to age 5 and the state-funded prekindergarten program for at-risk 4-year-olds proves that the programs are successful in boosting test scores and academic achievement. Additionally, a Federal Reserve (System) study found that high-quality ECE programs return $8 for every $1 invested. We must provide all children an equal opportunity to succeed in school. The evidence is there to support a large-scale, voluntary preschool program. However, we will never reach this goal if we continue to defund existing ECE programs, especially those that help children of poor families. As governor, I will look for ways to expand preschool to more children and families in need, with the help of public-private partnerships, starting with at-risk children, as prescribed in a Superior Court order that says: North Carolina can’t deny at-risk children admission to the state’s preschool program – an order that an appeals court recently upheld.”

Pat McCrory’s response: “Right now, our high schools are failing to graduate 1 in 5 students and of those that continue on to a community college, 65 percent need remedial math or English coursework. This is a sign of tragic failures earlier in a student’s educational career. In fact, only 34 percent of 4th grade students in North Carolina can read at- or above-grade level, and 44 percent are at or above-grade level in mathematic proficiency. I believe that we must reform our education system to focus on student achievement, and one way to do that is to end social promotions after the third grade and devote more resources to the crucial early years of a child’s education to ensure students are learning fundamental skills necessary for future success. As governor, I will also work to strengthen the entire education system as a whole to focus on student achievement by breaking down silos between Pre-K, K-12, community colleges and universities.”

Jobs and the economy

The most recent unemployment rates for the 18 westernmost counties of North Carolina indicate joblessness in Western North Carolina has eased up some in August, as reported by Carolina Public Press. However, eight counties in Western North Carolina are still posting double-digit unemployment rates, including Graham County, which the second-highest rate in the state with a rate of 14.8 percent.

  • What steps would you take as governor to support jobs specifically in Western North Carolina and improve the economy in the mountains?

Dalton’s response: “A drive through just about any of our small towns exposes the economic hardship the Great Recession left behind: abandoned factories, boarded-up businesses, roads and homes in need of repair. More of our middle class now struggle to make ends meet, some having to work two or more jobs if they can even find work at all. In my jobs plan, I recommend refocusing the way we approach economic development so that we’re more strategic in our efforts. I propose a small business tax cut and a tax incentive to hire the long-term unemployed. I propose ways to retool our policies toward results, ensuring taxpayer dollars are responsibly invested. I advocate for proposals to attract and retain businesses and investors; we need them both to grow our economy and create jobs. Finally, our ability to compete rests on having a strong workforce, which is why I suggest ways to retrain our workers to meet the needs of our businesses. Specifically for Western North Carolina, I will focus on rural counties. I will build upon my strong record of programs aimed at promoting rural economic growth, such as the New Generation Initiative, which funds entrepreneurship training and job development services for youth and young adults in rural communities, so youth can stay and build the community where they grew up. I also will work to expand broadband Internet access to give rural communities a direct connection to the global economy. I also propose regional innovation hubs for areas that share similar economic features allowing for the design of common economic development strategies across a geographic area that lead to more jobs. They connect educational institutions, economic developers, investors and community leaders and offer community and regional partners a chance to share state resources and leverage federal and private resources to reward communities for working together.”

McCrory’s response: “North Carolina now has the 5th highest unemployment rate in the country because our economic development brand is being diminished by high taxes, excessive regulation and broken state government. I believe North Carolina’s economy is broken and the only way to fix it is to develop a long-term economic development strategy for North Carolina, which will help us become more competitive and ripe for long-term job creation and economic growth. It starts with new leadership in the governor’s office. We must invest in key priorities like education, public safety, transportation and infrastructure, North Carolina must grow the economy through the private sector, not government. That includes reforming our out-of-date tax code, which was written in the 1930s, to spur job-creation, innovation and productivity and let us compete with states like Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina. It also means making government more responsive to business. Right now, small business owners rate North Carolina’s regulatory climate among the worst in the nation. North Carolina must do more to eliminate cumbersome and duplicative regulations while streamlining government agencies to make services more customer-friendly. Tourism is extremely important to the economy of Western North Carolina as well. My transportation and infrastructure plan will help once and for all remove politics from funding decisions and support projects based on worthiness and economic impact to tie the mountains to the beaches from urban and rural areas together to move commerce and boost tourism and travel.”

Environment

Western North Carolina’s unique natural environment is an integral part of the region, contributing to the area’s quality of life, tourism and more. The health of natural resources, such as the French Broad River –  which was the focus of a Carolina Public Press news series – currently is regulated by local, state and federal agencies, including the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

  • As governor, what would you want to see the role of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources become? And with regards to natural resources in Western North Carolina, what is your stance on environmental policy specific to the mountain region?

Dalton’s response: “I know that North Carolina’s natural beauty is part of what makes our state so attractive to businesses and residents. Tourism is our state’s second-largest private industry and a key economic driver in Western North Carolina—and our natural beauty is key. That’s why I have always fought for balanced environmental initiatives that help preserve North Carolina’s natural gifts for future generations to enjoy. My work includes adding Chimney Rock, a North Carolina landmark, to the state park system. I have fought for protecting the Clean Water Management Trust Fund which has helped improve water quality and preserve environmentally sensitive areas. I also have worked to enlarge state park areas and wildlife game lands to boost the tourism, hunting and recreation industries in North Carolina.”

McCrory’s response: “I strongly believe that our next governor must instill a new sense of customer service in our state agencies, including the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Every extra hoop that government makes a business jump through because of rules and regulations is an added expense for the business, leaving fewer resources for new hiring and other expansion. Right now, small business owners rate North Carolina’s regulatory climate among the worst in the nation. North Carolina must do more to eliminate cumbersome and duplicative regulations while streamlining government agencies to make services more responsive to businesses. At the same time, North Carolina must continue to support initiatives aimed at protecting our state’s beautiful natural resources while promoting economic development and job-creation. As governor, I am committed to protecting our mountains, beaches, barrier islands and water supply by utilizing technology and effective pollution prevention programs and by holding polluters that break the law accountable.”


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About the Author

Kathleen O. Davis

Kathleen O. Davis is a contributing reporter to Carolina Public Press. Contact her at kathleenodavis@gmail.com.

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