RALEIGH — North Carolina can set the stage for economic prosperity by pursuing policies that promote and enhance individual liberty. That’s the driving theme behind more than 85 recommendations on taxes, spending, education, health care, regulation, property rights, and more in the 20th-anniversary edition of the John Locke Foundation’s Agenda.
“Greater individual liberty will lead to greater prosperity for the citizens of North Carolina,” said Dr. Roy Cordato, JLF Vice President for Research and Resident Scholar. “In particular, both economic theory and history demonstrate that policies guided by the principles of liberty and free markets will help those at the bottom of the economic ladder the most, giving them tools and opportunities they need to climb into the ranks of the more prosperous.”
Cordato and the JLF research team translate principles into concrete policy proposals in nearly 30 subject areas. “Agenda is designed to help candidates for public office in North Carolina identify issues that should be most important to them, both on the campaign trail and once they take office,” he said.
JLF has published an Agenda document every other year since 1996. “Looking back at the last 20 years, especially the past few years, N.C. policymakers have made great strides in advancing liberty,” Cordato said. “But there is still much more to be done. Even when specific issues have changed, the principles guiding our response to the issues remain constant. They are more important and more cherished than ever.”
One set of recommendations urges policymakers to focus on “economic growth” rather than “economic development.” “Economic development tends to focus on stimulating specific localities, regions, or businesses,” Cordato said. “Focusing instead on growth means promoting policies that allow all businesses to act efficiently. Policies focusing on growth allow entrepreneurs to innovate and pursue opportunities as they see them.”
Specifically, Cordato recommends repealing all state economic development incentives, scrapping a 90-year-old law that permits local incentives, and pursuing pro-growth tax reforms.
Speaking of taxes, Agenda supports adding a Taxpayer Bill of Rights to the state constitution. “A TABOR amendment would limit annual state spending growth to no more than the projected rate of inflation plus population growth,” said Julie Tisdale, JLF Research Analyst. “It would require a public referendum to exceed that spending cap, and it would mandate that any revenues collected above the annual spending cap be deposited into the state’s rainy-day reserve fund or returned to taxpayers.”
The document spells out additional spending and revenue recommendations. Each is designed to rein in overspending and increase budget transparency.
Much of the state budget targets public education, and more than one-third of Agenda’s recommendations focus on education-related issues. They include education spending, teachers, testing and accountability, standards and curricula, and class size.
The Agenda document notes recent growth in parental school choice options. It features ideas for further improvement.
“While the state should continue to increase funding to accommodate all eligible applicants for existing voucher programs, low-income students also should receive state-funded Education Savings Accounts,” said Dr. Terry Stoops, JLF Director of Research and Education Studies. “School districts also should make greater use of open enrollment and magnet schools, allowing parents to send their children to the public schools that best meet their needs.”
Much debate over health care issues in recent years has centered on Medicaid, the federal- and state-funded program that played a central role in the Affordable Care Act. The Agenda document explains why North Carolina should avoid the Obama administration’s proposed Medicaid expansion.
“Funding a Medicaid expansion won’t solve our nation’s pervasive health care access problem,” said Katherine Restrepo, JLF Director of Health Care Policy. “Congress should focus more on relaxing regulations that make health care more affordable, and less on how to extend health insurance for all.”
Restrepo recommends changes in Medicaid’s financial design, along with flexibility for North Carolina’s Medicaid reforms. Beyond Medicaid, she delves into issues involving health insurance exchanges, North Carolina’s certificate-of-need law, and policies to promote increased use of direct primary care.
North Carolina has pursued a series of regulatory reforms since 2011. The Agenda document offers ideas for further reform. A new “Red Tape Reduction” initiative would cap overall regulations, while a proposed “REINS Act” would subject the most-expensive proposed regulations to more legislative oversight.
Agenda offers a simple response to the renewable energy mandate North Carolina adopted nearly a decade ago. “Cap and sunset the mandate and return North Carolina to its standard of least-cost, reliable power,” said Jon Sanders, JLF Director of Regulatory Studies. “Electricity is a basic human need. Keeping consumer costs as low as possible is the No. 1 issue in electricity policy in North Carolina.”
On the legal front, Agenda tackles overcriminalization, asset forfeiture, juvenile justice, and eminent domain reform.
More than 10 years after the U.S. Supreme Court issued its shocking ruling in the Kelo eminent domain case, North Carolina still has not followed other states that have boosted protection of private property rights.
“Our failure to protect citizens’ property rights adequately is one of the primary reasons why, when it comes to regulatory freedom, North Carolina languishes among the bottom third of states, both nationally and regionally,” said Jon Guze, JLF Director of Legal Studies. “If we truly want to be ‘first in freedom,’ we must take decisive steps to prevent eminent domain abuse under state law.”
While the latest Agenda sets out dozens of recommended reforms, fans of individual liberty and free markets have some reasons for optimism, Cordato said.
“In the earliest editions of the Agenda, there was so little movement on freedom-based policies that it was almost possible to change the date and simply issue a two-year-old document as a new Agenda,” he said.
“Policymakers have been more receptive to these ideas in recent years, so preparing an up-to-date Agenda has required more work,” he added. “That’s good news, but there are still plenty of policy areas in which 20-year-old problems remain the same in this state. As long as government pursues policies that limit individual freedom and restrict free markets, the Agenda will play an important role in guiding policymakers toward a better course.”
The John Locke Foundation’s “Agenda: A Candidate’s Guide to Key Issues in North Carolina Public Policy,” is available at the JLF website. 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]