By the Numbers 2001: What Government Costs in North Carolina Cities and Counties is a publication of the Center for Local Innovation, a division of the John Locke Foundation. Its purpose is to inform North Carolinians about their local governments and promote debate and discussion about the future of city and county fiscal policy in North Carolina. It is not intended to advance or impede legislation before local, state, or federal lawmaking bodies.
By the Numbers: Comparing the Cost of Local Governments in North Carolina represents an attempt by the John Locke Foundation to help North Carolina citizens get a handle on the total cost of their local governments.
North Carolina's new Child Health Insurance Program known as Health Choice has grown rapidly in its first two years, attracting national praise and prompting calls for additional funding to enroll more children. But the program, while helping to reduce the uninsured rate, has also contributed to a 30 percent drop in private coverage and self-sufficiency among families of modest means. Significant changes are needed to ensure a better use of taxpayer dollars.
Among the major causes of this year's $800 million state budget deficit is a $108 million increase in projected Medicaid spending. After a brief period of slow growth in the late-1990s, North Carolina's Medicaid program is now a significant threat to the state's long-term fiscal health. It is also the most expensive Medicaid program in the South. The state should enact reforms in eligibility and benefits which could save taxpayers at least $251 million a year.
State policymakers are considering a $43 million request for additional funding for poor school districts and awaiting the resolution of the Leandro school finance case. They should keep in mind that funding disparities among North Carolina school districts are minor due to their primary reliance on state rather than local taxes. Indeed, in inflation-adjusted spending per pupil, the state's 25 poorest districts are better funded today than the 25 richest districts were 11 years ago.
Like taxes, state and local regulations have an enormous impact on the average citizen as well as on businesses, especially small business — the key to job creation in a vibrant economy. In many ways, regulations are a more onerous and hidden way than taxes for the state to take resources out of the private sector to accomplish what is at least a purportedly public objective.
The 1995 session of the General Assembly was unique in the history of North Carolina. After years of rapidly increasing state spending, both Gov. Hunt and the legislature expressed an interest in controlling spending growth and cutting taxes. As a result, operating spending grew by only 1.4 percent in FY 1995-96, by far the slowest rate of spending growth in a non-recession year this century.
When it comes to state transportation policy, there can be little doubt that North Carolina offers a model not to be emulated. Unfortunately, numerous scandals, problems, and challenges have continued to intermingle transportation policy with politics.
By Jonathan C. Jordan and Michael Lowrey
This comprehensive briefing on 21 issues facing the state, as well as statistics on government expenditures and outcomes, provides ideas and recommendations on taxes, state spending, education, health care, welfare, and more.
Please consult Agenda 2002 for the latest information.
Policymakers should think carefully about the administrative costs of raising revenue through a state lottery. In effect, the state would be legalizing gambling, establishing a state monopoly on it, and then taxing gross sales at a 33 percent rate. The cost per dollar collected of this lottery tax would be 20 to 50 times greater than the cost of raising rates for other state taxes that already exist. The best course for the state is not to raise taxes at all but to reduce the size of government.
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