Do you see the board of commissioner’s role as basically funding the school board with what they ask for?
Gurley: No. Two years ago, at my urging, we started the year with budgeting by purpose and function. Instead of just giving the school board a check for one-twelfth of its budget every month as we did in the past, we gave it 16 checks, each based on a purpose and function. Then if the school board deviates, within 25 percent on the high or low side of what it asked for on a particular function, it has to tell us. That way we can know if we need to limit or expand funding based on how well the school board works within its budget. The middle of that school year was an election year and that is when Democrats took control of the board. The first thing Democrats did was repeal purpose and function, so we never even got the first report back from the school board.
You’ve said that growth was paying for itself a few years ago, but it seems like we have some catching up to do in some services like mental health care and education, where teachers are having to buy their own paper.
Gurley: Mental health care and education. What do those two services have in common? They are both state responsibilities. The county is only responsible for facilities and even though, that is all we are responsible for, we still supplement the state budget. We gave the schools $315 million and only about $80 million of that went to maintaining the facilities. The rest of that money went to supplementing our school’s operating budget.
What the state can’t pay for?
Gurley: What the state won’t pay for. They could pay for it. Our taxpayers in Wake County fund schools better than the minimum, which is all the state is willing to fund.
Were you expecting such a challenge from Steve Rao at the outset of this campaign?
Gurley: When you get an opponent like Steve Rao, you know it’s going to be tough. I knew from the beginning that it would be tough. Even if he didn’t say a word, if he just raised money, ran ads, and was a Democrat, I knew it’d be close.
Are there any politicians who have inspired you?
Gurley: Well, I remember I liked Bobby Kennedy and I remember when he and Martin Luther King were assassinated. Those were really crazy times. The first time I really thought a politician could make a difference, though, was watching Ronald Reagan.
Do you mean in the economy?
Gurley: Even in the mood of the country. At that time Jimmy Carter said, “This is the first time in our history that people are scared the next five years are going to be worst than the last five.” And then Reagan came in there and proved that wrong. The Iran hostages were released, the Berlin wall came down, taxes were reduced from 70 percent to 25 percent. He even got more money into the government than when tax rates were up, because people were free to do more for themselves.
Do you think that could happen again because of government or do you think that was just a watershed period in history?
Gurley: Yes. I think it could happen again. The problem is… once a majority of people realize that they can vote themselves money, than you’ve reached a tipping point where it’s going to be difficult to go back. We’re at that point right now. We’re at the point where half of the population doesn’t pay income tax and they can vote themselves money from the other half, by electing people who are willing to take it from the half that do pay income taxes. Last year was the tipping point where we passed that 50 percent mark.
Who are those people who you are saying don’t pay income tax, the bottom 50 percent of earners?
Do you think that anyone who works a forty-hour per week job should be able to afford health care?
Gurley: I don’t think they could.
But do you think they should be able to?
Gurley: Yeah. There ought to be something that they can afford to pay for.
Like a government option?
Gurley: Well there’s all sorts of different kinds of health care. I really like the catastrophic health care plans, where you buy a cheap plan that pays for everything over $5,000.
Do you support the concept of neighborhood schools?
Gurley: Yes. I support the concept of children going to school in their community. When the schools are part of the community then parents are able to participate.
Do you think that whatever plan develops, we should try to avoid having high poverty schools?
Gurley: We already have high poverty schools.
We have some that are around the 70 percent mark. Redistricting could easily create some that reach 90 percent and above.
Gurley: You could use the magnet program for schools that might reach that level. You could create special programs in those schools which would draw children from around the county. I like that consultant’s approach. He doesn’t go by poverty in trying to determine zones. He’s basing it on academic performance. So, you don’t talk about high-poverty schools, but schools with high concentrations of poor performing students.
But, there is a high correlation between socio-economic status and grades, right?
Gurley: Oh, yeah. Exactly. But, you’re not allowed to talk about race and yet that’s what it all boils down to. That’s what we’re doing.
Do you think we’re at a crucial juncture in Wake County’s history?
Gurley: Yes. We’re at the peak of people thinking that government is the answer to everything. This election in two weeks can either be the turning point where we start emphasizing personal responsibility and government that helps individuals reach their potential and gives them support to open their own businesses or we can continue that path of people expecting government to do everything for them.
Don’t you think that part of the reason for the rise in sentiment on the Left and Obama’s sweeping victory, is people simply wanting government do the things it is supposed to do right, rather than do everything?
Gurley: No. I think they want government to do everything. We’re getting to the point that more people want to shift responsibility to the government than accept responsibility themselves. It’s not that they think government can do it more efficiently or effectively. They would rather not deal with it, just let government deal with it.
Let’s talk about your appointment to county commissioner, which happened while one Democrat was home sick and another was in the bathroom. Some people saw it as dirty politics. Do you consider it smart politics?
Gurley: It was stupid politics on their part. If they really wanted to reconsider the vote, when she [Commissioner Betty Lou Ward] came back in from the bathroom, the first thing she could’ve done was make a motion to reconsider that vote, since she wasn’t there. That would’ve been in order and I would’ve had to honor it.
Why do think they didn’t do that?
Gurley: Two reasons. They would rather try to be the victim and build on sympathy. They would rather play the politics of it. The other reason is, there isn’t a single one of them capable of being chairman and doing the work that needs to be done. They would rather be a victim and have a political item for their candidates, period.