RALEIGH — North Carolina needs a major redesign of its state government operating system, a “North Carolina 6.0” that would include an expanded veto for the governor, formal session limits for legislators, and the return of party labels for judicial races. The John Locke Foundation’s new book includes these ideas among more than a dozen recommendations for improving state government operations.
JLF President John Hood will discuss these and other ideas during a noon presentation today in Raleigh for the Shaftesbury Society.
“State government has grown in size, scope, and cost, without a commensurate increase in the quantity and quality of state services,” Hood writes in First in Freedom: Transforming Ideas Into Consequences for North Carolina. “Nearly two decades of economic stagnation, fractious politics, and high-level corruption have convinced many diehard North Carolina natives that fundamental reform is needed.” Factor in the large number of Tar Heels born out of state, and the potential base of support for reform grows broader, Hood said.
For natives and newcomers alike, Hood offers a history lesson detailing North Carolina’s first five “operating systems,” stretching back to colonial days. The current system evolved from reform efforts in the 1930s tied to the Great Depression. Most of the current state government structure is more than 40 years old, based in the Constitution of 1971, Hood said.
“Compared to most state governments in the union, North Carolina has a weak and diffused executive branch; a powerful but often unwieldy legislative branch; a judicial branch with a problematic selection process; and a set of administrative agencies with overlapping jurisdictions, inadequate public oversight, and insufficient benefits to the general public,” Hood said.
Institutional power ratings suggest North Carolina has the nation’s second-weakest governor, trailing only Vermont. Meanwhile, power ratings rank North Carolina’s state House speaker “considerably higher” than the national average and higher than neighboring states, Hood reports. North Carolina is one of only 11 states with no direct or indirect legislative session limit.
North Carolina also puts more people on the taxpayers’ payroll than most states, Hood said. “Combining state and local operations together reveals that North Carolina has about 7 percent more public employees per capita than the average state does,” he said. “That’s one signal that the operating system of North Carolina government is inefficient. Another is that we simply have so many major state agencies and departments, often with overlapping jurisdictions and unclear lines of accountability to the voting public.”
First In Freedom‘s proposed North Carolina 6.0 would align North Carolina’s state government operating system more closely with 21st-century realities, Hood said. “I would submit that North Carolina can maintain a healthy set of checks and balances in state government while cleaning up the state’s organizational chart, shortening the statewide ballot, and giving voters more information with which to hold their public officials accountable for the performance of their duties and the expenditure of funds.”
Hood would expand the governor’s veto to allow him to strike line items and reduce funding for individual programs and agencies. Other executive branch reforms include reducing the number of separately elected executive offices from 10 to four, assigning the secretary of state’s duties to the lieutenant governor, merging three existing state departments into a new Department of Commerce and Consumer Services, reorganizing the state’s education governing boards, and reducing the size and role of the state Board of Transportation.
A new North Carolina 6.0 operating system also would require at least one chamber of the General Assembly to confirm the governor’s Cabinet-level appointments. Lawmakers would have stronger oversight of administrative and regulatory agencies. The legislature would face formal session limits, and North Carolina would reform its redistricting process.
North Carolina also would abandon its current system for electing judges to North Carolina’s Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. “It is really the worst of all possible worlds — nonpartisan elections that aren’t really free from partisanship,” Hood said.
Hood would return partisan labels to judicial elections with campaigns funded by voluntary contributions. If that’s not possible, a second-best option would resemble the federal model. Governors would appoint judges, subject to legislative confirmation and a possible retention election, Hood said.
The set of North Carolina 6.0 reforms also would include a measure requiring voters to approve all issuance of public debt. A final proposal would limit the size of the state’s General Fund budget to the amount of revenue collected during the previous calendar year.
“The most compelling argument for reform is to strengthen the public’s sovereignty over their government,” Hood said. “State government does not exist to empower politicians or employ the politically connected. It exists to perform basic public services. It has an obligation to deliver these services as effectively and efficiently as possible. A new operating system for North Carolina government would help to satisfy that obligation.”
Copies of First in Freedom: Transforming Ideas Into Consequences for North Carolina are available at the John Locke Foundation’s online store.