State Treasurer Dale Folwell believes North Carolina is well positioned to rebound from the economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
But Folwell, who spent five days in a Winston-Salem hospital after becoming infected with COVID-19 in early April, and his fellow Republicans on the Council of State also want to have more of a say on how the state’s economy is reopened.
Folwell along with fellow Republicans Lt. Gov. Dan Forrest, Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler, Commissioner of Insurance Mike Causey, Commissioner of Labor Cherie Berry and Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson sent a letter last week to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper asking that he convene a meeting of the council.
Cooper could start Phase Two of his reopening plan Friday, which would allow more businesses like salons, barbershops and movie theaters currently shuttered by COVID-19 to reopen. Restaurants now only allowed to offer takeout and delivery service could restart dine-in service in Phase Two.
Phase Three is expected to begin in a month and would allow larger gatherings of people and fully open more businesses. Phase One of Cooper’s plan began May 8.
Folwell said last week that Council of State members have not received a response from the governor to their request to have a meeting on the state’s reopening plan.
“A meeting (is what we want),” Folwell said. “I feel that we have a better chance than any state our size to pull out of this faster and stronger than anyone else. But it can’t be done in secret and it can’t be done without the right policies.”
Folwell said all Council of State members need to have input in reopening the state.
“A meeting for the first time where we actually use the subject matter expertise of the duly elected people sitting around that table and make sure that everybody understands where the data is and where the policies need to be,” Folwell said.
Folwell said North Carolina should be able to rebound from the economic toll brought about by COVID-19 because of the state’s strong financial position. The state has $2 billion in unappropriated state funds; $4 billion in its unemployment fund; and $1.5 billion in its rainy-day fund, he said. The state also received $4 billion in federal relief from the federal CARES Act, $2 billion of which the state hasn’t yet allocated.
Folwell said action needs to be taken now to start repairing the economy.
“My concern is that everybody talks about the medical virus but we are in the first inning of the economic virus,” Folwell said. “My fear is that it’s going to create an economic inequality that is going to be difficult to bounce back from.”
The General Assembly has already approved a $1.7 billion spending plan for some of the CARES Act money, including $150 million that goes to counties for reimbursement of COVID-19-related expenses.
Folwell said local governments should be allowed to use funds to make up for tax revenue losses, especially since state, county and local municipalities are usually the top employers in many counties across the state.
“We need to keep services for public safety, public education and roads where they are now,” he said.
Folwell manages the state’s $101 billion pension fund and he said the plan’s investments have seen a minimal drop since the start of the pandemic.
“The 26th largest pool of public money in the world, was only down 3.8 percent,” Folwell said. “What that means is we remain in the check-delivering business and this hard-earned benefit for those who teach, those who protect and those that otherwise serve our citizens, is solvent. It also means that we have conservatively managed this pension plan.”
Folwell, 61, was never placed on a ventilator during his COVID-19 hospital stay. He urges citizens to use common sense measures like washing hands, wearing a mask and social distancing to stop the spread of the disease.
“When I was in the most intensive part of my hospitalization, I still had no fever, I still had no GI (gastrointestinal) issues, I still had no headache, and I still didn’t really have any shortness of breath,” Folwell said. “So, it made me realize when people use the word ‘asymptomatic,’ I have seen that in living color.”