Thursday, July 18, 2024

Pope, Allison, Luddy slam casinos, Medicaid reform and N.C. Innovation

Five prominent North Carolina business leaders sent an email today to Republican members of the N.C. House of Representatives denouncing plans to fund the N.C. Innovation business promotion group, legalize casinos and expand Medicaid insurance for low-income residents.

The letter signals dissension by politically active leaders including Variety Wholesalers CEO Art Pope and CaptiveAire CEO Bob Luddy and former BB&T CEO John Allison, who now teaches at Wake Forest University’s business school. Other signatories were Rodney Pitts, chairman of Charlotte-based Southern Elevator, and E.C. Sykes, general partner of Aslan Ventures and an unsuccessful candidate for N.C. Senate last year.

The House and Senate GOP leadership are debating how to approve the state budget for the two years starting July 1. Key differences include the three issues targeted by the business leaders.

Allison’s criticism comes as his successor as BB&T’s CEO, Kelly King, is the chair and key instigator of the N.C. Innovation project. The duo worked together for decades to build the sixth-largest U.S. bank. The letter cites $1.4 billion approved for N.C. Innovation by the Senate, but that has been reduced to $500 million over the next two years, according to a draft of the budget that was leaked to the press Monday.

Medicaid reform would enable more than half a million state residents to participate in the insurance program. A bipartisan group of lawmakers and Gov. Roy Cooper agreed on a compromise earlier this year after a decade-long stalemate, but the agreement hinges on passage of the budget. Casino legalization includes plans for four projects in rural areas, a plan promoted by Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger as an economic development tool.

Here is the text of today’s email:

Members of the North Carolina House of Representatives:

We, the undersigned business leaders from across North Carolina, are writing to express our deep concern regarding the current budget impasse and the inclusion of specific provisions in the budget proposal. While we applaud the state’s remarkable economic success over the past decade, we believe that the key to sustaining this prosperity lies in a fiscally responsible budget that refrains from allocating funds to NC Innovation, legalizing casinos, or expanding Medicaid.

North Carolina’s economic progress has been achieved through a combination of factors, including tax reforms that have allowed entrepreneurs, business leaders, and investors to thrive. The state’s reduced corporate income tax rate and individual income tax rate have attracted businesses and talent, creating jobs and wage growth. This is a testament to the power of a free-market economy where the private sector leads the way.

However, the current budget proposal includes a substantial allocation of $1.4 billion to NC Innovation, a non-profit organization. While the goals of supporting rural technology development, education, and workforce training are indeed noble, this approach does not align with the principles of free enterprise. Government intervention and support in the technology sector can create market distortions and stifle true innovation. We believe that fostering innovation should be the role of the private sector, and state resources would be better spent on initiatives that promote competition and minimal government involvement in the economy.

Additionally, we urge you to reconsider including provisions related to legalizing and licensing four casinos in North Carolina. The state budget’s primary purpose is to allocate resources for current operations, and such policy changes only complicate budget negotiations. The budget must remain focused on its intended purpose to ensure fiscal responsibility and maintain North Carolina’s economic stability.

Finally, we express our concerns about Medicaid expansion, which represents an expansion of government control and intervention in the healthcare sector. Government-run or funded healthcare programs can disrupt market dynamics, leading to fewer options for consumers and potentially higher costs for those who choose to remain in the private insurance market. We believe that maintaining minimal government interference in healthcare is essential to preserve the principles of free enterprise and encourage competition and innovation.

We understand the challenges you face in crafting a budget that meets the diverse needs of our state. Still, we urge you to prioritize fiscal responsibility and the principles that have contributed to North Carolina’s economic success.

We encourage you to expeditiously pass a state budget that excludes funding for NC Innovation, policy changes on casinos, or funding for Medicaid Expansion.

North Carolina has a bright future ahead, and by staying on the path of fiscal prudence and embracing the principles of free enterprise, we can continue to build a thriving and prosperous state for all its residents. We look forward to your leadership in making these critical decisions for the betterment of North Carolina. 


Bob Luddy, CEO, CaptiveAire/Thales Academy & Thales College

Art Pope, CEO, Variety Wholesalers

John Allison, Wake Forest University School of Business / Retired CEO, BB & T/ Retired President and CEO Cato Institute 

Rodney Pitts, Chairman, Southern Elevator

E.C. Sykes, General Partner Aslan Ventures

David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg is editor of Business North Carolina. Reach him at

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