Never mind the claims of a Carolina Comeback or his promises to fix a “broken” state government. It will be the next few weeks that are likely to define the governorship of Pat McCrory.
First there is the fate of his vetoes, his decisions to reject legislation that would allow magistrates and other public officials to refuse to marry same-sex couples and another bill that would make it harder for employees to uncover and report abuse or other unethical activity at their workplace.
Many pundits have said politics motivated McCrory to act, to portray himself as more moderate with the 2016 election just around the corner.
Politics or not, McCrory deserves credit for talking tough to the legislative leaders of his own party and for backing it up with two important vetoes and promising two more, one of which we can hope will be on legislation imposing an arbitrary 72-hour waiting period on women seeking an abortion.
The question now for McCrory is does he have the determination and political skills to prevent lawmakers from overriding his vetoes and imposing their will on the state despite his objections.
The Senate voted Monday night to override the veto of the magistrates bill and while that came as no surprise, it was a reminder that McCrory may not yet have a handle on how to deal with the General Assembly.
The Senate vote was 32-16, well above the 3/5 threshold needed to override. But the vote could have been much different if McCrory had been able to convince a few moderate Republican Senators to change their minds or managed to delay the vote until two prominent Democrats who were absent could be on hand to support his veto.
Maybe McCrory tried and it didn’t work. Maybe he is focusing his efforts on the House where the vote is more uncertain, but it is still not clear McCrory has mastered or is even willing to play the insider political game and use the wide variety of powers he has to bring individual lawmakers to his side.
The second test will be the two bond packages totaling $3 billion McCrory has proposed to put on the ballot this fall, one for transportation projects and the other for state government infrastructure improvements.
Legislative leaders are balking at the transportation bond and apparently think the infrastructure bond is too large and have quibbles about the projects it includes. McCrory has been travelling the state selling the package, renaming the infrastructure package an education bond since it includes projects on university campuses.
The bonds could be a signature achievement of McCrory’s first term, but it’s not clear Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore are willing to go along with him or that McCrory has the political muscle to make them.
Just as the bond issues would be a major accomplishment for McCrory, their defeat in the General Assembly would be a massive blow to the governor and a loud statement about his leadership ability.
And finally, there’s the budget. Senate leaders are expected to roll out their spending plan next week that is expected to spend far less on education and human services than the already inadequate House proposal.
The Senate budget may include another tax cut beyond the corporate income tax reduction already built into in the plan, further reducing state revenues available for vital public investments.
McCrory has said publicly that another tax cut would be unwise and he also supports many of the economic incentive programs in the House budget, most notably the restoration of the historic tax credit program that he spent the last six months promoting across the state.
Senate leaders don’t like the historic tax credit and aren’t too happy with the other incentive proposals or the House spending levels either. There is a heated battle coming between the House and Senate with McCrory’s budget priorities in the crosshairs.
McCrory said last week when selling the bond package to an economic development group that lawmakers were “scared of their own shadow.”
We’ll find out soon if they are also scared of him, or at least respect him enough to sustain his vetoes, approve his bonds and support his budget priorities.
The answer will define McCrory’s first four years and his chances to leave a mark on the state he was elected to lead, not to mention his message to voters about why he deserves another term in office.
Chris Fitzsimon is the founder and executive director of N.C. Policy Watch.