As he made his case to voters for what has been termed “the Super Bowl of mayor races,” Republican candidate B.J. Murphy invoked a political superstar: Ronald Reagan.
“The question is, sure we’ve got a lot of great things going but you personally, are you better off right now than you were eight years ago?” Murphy said during a candidate forum Tuesday evening.
When he was running for president in 1980, Reagan uttered his famous line, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” during a televised debate, referencing the national economic decline under his opponent, incumbent President Jimmy Carter.
In 2009, Murphy and his fellow candidates, Democrat Jimmy Cousins and Earl Harper, who is unaffiliated, are running to lead a city that has weathered years of economic decline, but could come out of it in future years.
Murphy, Cousins and Harper answered the public’s questions on how they would bring jobs to the city, and handle a host of other issues during a forum hosted by TACC-9 and The Free Press.
“This is kind of the Super Bowl of mayor races,” moderator Rick Vernon said in his opening remarks during a live TACC-9 broadcast of the forum Tuesday.
One topic on the minds of many Kinston voters is high electric rates. Each candidate was asked what, if anything, could be done to bring down rates driven largely by the N.C. Eastern Municipal Power Agency, of which Kinston is a member.
Harper said Kinston was not alone in facing high electric rates.
“The electric rates everywhere have gone up,” he said. “There’s not a whole lot we can do about what’s coming down from ElectriCities, the Eastern Municipal Power Agency, but we can try to cut (city) expenses here so we can lower our rates for people here.”
Murphy said “it’s going to be impossible to reduce those rates without some major changes.”
He said the city must change its spending priorities, including moving money from the Electric Fund to balance its General Fund budget, to lower its operating costs, and also fight federal “cap and trade” legislation that could push energy costs even higher.
Cousins said simply, that “nothing” could be done about electric rates until the NCEMPA pays off the several billion dollars of debt it incurred in the 1970s to purchase power plants — which it owns with Progress Energy. Kinston’s share of that debt is $249 million, and it is not scheduled to be paid off until 15 years from now.
“Until we pay off the debt we incurred in the 70s, our electric rates will remain high or be higher,” Cousins said.
The candidates also took questions on job growth, balancing the city budget, developing and preserving recreation facilities, developing heritage tourism, promoting the local arts scene and how involved their spouses will be in city life.
The forum will be re-aired on TACC-9 multiple times over the next two weeks