News: CJ Exclusives

JLF Releases Candidate Issue Guide

Agenda 2006 contains more than 75 policy recommendations

N.C. legislators can protect taxpayers by limiting spending, encouraging school choice, and strengthening private property rights. Those are a few of the more than 75 recommendations outlined in Agenda 2006, a new Policy Report published by the John Locke Foundation.

“As we enter the 2006 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, the foundation’s vice president for research.

The new report, Agenda 2006, is designed to help those candidates, Cordato said. It combines the expertise of JLF policy analysts to address state and local budgets and taxes, education, state regulation, local government, and health and human services.

“The state budget is out of control,” said Joseph Coletti, the foundation’s fiscal policy analyst and one of the contributors to Agenda 2006. “Gov. Mike Easley and the General Assembly call it fiscal restraint to spend the tax surplus when the economy is good and raise taxes when the economy is bad.”

Coletti and his colleagues outline ways to improve the budget process, including new tax and expenditure limits that could be placed in state law or submitted to voters as a constitutional amendment.

The report also recommends reforming the North Carolina tax code, consolidating state agencies, and reducing the state tax burden. “North Carolina policymakers should make it a goal at least to reduce taxes enough to bring North Carolina’s tax burden in line with that of its neighboring states, which would require state or local tax cuts of approximately $1.5 billion,” Coletti said.

Education recommendations target items such as spending levels, standards, child care programs, and school choice. “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.

The report also calls for higher admission standards in UNC system schools, along with better measures of student achievement. “The UNC system should implement a policy of assessing students’ fundamental knowledge and skills at the time of entrance and again at the time of graduation so as to determine how much education value was added,” said George Leef, director of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

Other recommendations cover smart growth, Medicaid policies, and campaign finance reform. Plus researchers have added some new topics to the agenda.

The report adds a section on air quality, “not because pollution has gotten worse, but in part to make clear that air quality has gotten significantly better,” Cordato said. “A purpose of this section is to alert candidates to the economic dangers of using state policy to address the issue of global warming.”

Last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. New London also prompted a new section on eminent-domain powers. The report recommends a constitutional amendment to place new limits on eminent-domain abuse. “Even if state statutes protected us from Kelo-type takings, a statute can be changed at the whim of political interests,” said Daren Bakst, JLF legal and regulatory policy analyst. “A constitutional amendment is difficult to change and provides the necessary protection.”

Agenda 2006 puts important state and local government issues in focus, foundation President John Hood said. “Elected leaders open themselves to criticism when they take more money and freedom away from their constituents,” Hood said. “This agenda outlines ways they can blunt that criticism and protect the people they’re elected to serve.”