RALEIGH — North Carolina’s next General Assembly can promote freedom and prosperity by limiting government spending, rejecting policies that raise energy costs, and helping more parents make choices about their children’s education. Those are some of the nearly 100 recommendations set out in the John Locke Foundation’s new Agenda 2008 Policy Report.
“During this 2008 campaign season, candidates for public office in North Carolina are faced with the daunting and possibly overwhelming task of developing informed positions on dozens of public policy issues,” said Dr. Roy Cordato, JLF Vice President for Research and Resident Scholar. “Agenda 2008 is designed to help those candidates, with a series of recommendations emphasizing free markets, private property rights, individual liberty, and limited government.”
New topics join the list of issues familiar to readers of previous JLF Agenda reports, published every two years since 1996. “Concerns about misplaced spending priorities, high and increasing overall levels of state government spending, and a tax burden that punishes productive activities are continuing problems that plague North Carolina’s citizens,” Cordato said. “But new sections in Agenda 2008 reflect how changing events can shift the focus of policy makers in a matter of months or even weeks.”
For the first time, the new Agenda includes analysis of policies linked to water and drought management, tax increment financing, mental health, the state lottery, government transparency, and energy.
“We need to promote policies that ensure low-cost and reliable energy,” said Daren Bakst, JLF Legal and Regulatory Policy Analyst. “Low-cost energy is not a luxury; it’s a requirement to fill our most basic needs. Despite the critical importance of low-cost energy, state policymakers have gone out of their way to increase the price of energy artificially, while wringing their hands about energy prices.”
Recent controversy involving state government has prompted some of Agenda 2008‘s recommendations. For example, the failure of the Randy Parton Theatre in Roanoke Rapids shines a spotlight on the problems associated with tax increment financing, or TIF, the funding scheme used to build the now closed theater. The Agenda recommends that voters have a say before a community can use TIF for future projects.
In addition, concern about the state’s mental health system prompted an Agenda recommendation to “keep Dorothea Dix Hospital open indefinitely, and adjust staffing and training at state mental hospitals to the evolving role of hospitals as crisis centers with some long-term patients.”
While Agenda 2008 adds new topics, JLF researchers also promote family-friendly ideas for addressing long-standing concerns about state government. The report recommends lower tax rates, a simplified tax system, and mandated limits on taxes and expenditures, such as a Taxpayer Protection Act.
“We also recommend that state lawmakers give families tax relief for education and health expenses,” said Joseph Coletti, JLF Fiscal and Health Care Policy Analyst. “For example, state lawmakers should reinstate and expand the tax credit for child health insurance by giving a refundable credit of $250 per person, up to $1,000 per family.”
Education ideas include a merit pay system for teachers and a revamped school testing program that relies on “an independent, field-tested, and credible national test of student performance.” The Agenda report also calls for policies that allow more parents to play a larger role in choosing the education setting appropriate for their kids.
“The General Assembly should give parents an ‘Education Bill of Rights’ that attaches funding to the student and gives parents the right to send their children to any public, charter, or private school in the state,” said Terry Stoops, JLF Education Policy Analyst.
Agenda 2008 focuses attention on many of the critical issues state lawmakers will face when they reconvene in Raleigh in January 2009, said JLF President John Hood. “Too often, elected leaders try to solve problems by taking more money and freedom away from their constituents,” Hood said. “This Agenda 2008 offers dozens of ideas to address the same problems while preserving freedom and promoting individual liberty.”
The John Locke Foundation Policy Report, “Agenda 2008: A Candidate’s Guide to Key Issues in North Carolina Public Policy,” is available at the JLF Web site. For more information, please contact Dr. Roy Cordato at (919) 828-3876 or [email protected]. To arrange an interview, contact Mitch Kokai at (919) 306-8736 or [email protected].