There will be parades, speeches, picnics, and gatherings across North Carolina this month to celebrate freedom. The General Assembly will be wrapping up its work, at least for the meantime, this month. In many of the public policy debates this session, it seems to me freedom is in peril. We saw it in the budget debate with the governor and others, who are insisting more government spending and control is better, even necessary, they argue. But it quickly becomes apparent nothing would be enough.
Is freedom in danger in North Carolina? As I looked at the conference budget the General Assembly passed in late June — with bi-partisan support by the way — I found many reasons to celebrate. In addition to passing a fiscally responsible, restrained and disciplined spending plan, lawmakers preserved and promoted freedom. I’m calling it the Freedom Budget. Here are 17 examples I found:
- By restraining spending growth to an average of 3.5% over the two-year budget (within the growth of population and inflation) North Carolinians get to keep more of their money and enjoy the freedom to spend it as they wish.
- Putting $710 million into the savings reserve account and building the state’s rainy-day fund back up to $1.96 billion by 2021 ensures help when we need it most — during a natural disaster or to get us through an economic downturn, as well as providing peace of mind and freedom from worry.
- North Carolina has a long history of supporting education, understanding that gaining skills to work and having a job is the path to happiness, fulfillment, the way out of poverty and the key to independence and freedom from government dependency. This budget allocates $14 billion to public education, the highest amount ever.
- Legislative leaders promise to spend $1.9 billion for K-12 and community college construction needs using a cash pay-as-you-go plan, frees up debt capacity, and frees up North Carolinians from excessive debt in the future.
- Businesses are freed from excessive taxation with reductions in the franchise tax, enabling them to invest more in creating jobs and growing their businesses.
- Low-income families now have freedom to keep more of their money with additions to the zero-tax bracket.
- Being saddled with college loan debt upon graduation can be overwhelming. The General Assembly decided several years ago to free students from that debt and implemented the N.C. Promise program, offering $500 tuition at three UNC Institutions. This budget provides additional funding and flexibility for the increase in financial obligations for N.C. Promise Institutions, making college available to more students, and it’s practically free.
- Financial illiteracy leads to bad decisions that impede freedom to enjoy the fruits of one’s labor. This budget adds an Economics and Personal Finance course as a high school graduation requirement.
- Teachers are free to spend a classroom-supplies allotment that goes directly to them. Eligible teachers will get $150 the first year; $200 per teacher the second year.
- This budget consolidates a couple current programs into the N.C. Personal Education Student Accounts for Children with Disabilities, giving parents better options, more flexibility, and the freedom to best meet their child’s educational needs.
- More than 4,000 additional N.C. seniors are granted the freedom to stay in their homes because of increased funding for Home and Community Care Block Grants.
- Loan repayment incentives will make it possible for doctors, physicians’ assistants, dentists, nurse practitioners, and certified nurse midwifes the freedom to practice and provide greater access to quality health care to rural communities. It allows folks the freedom to choose rural areas to live because of greater access to quality health care.
- This budget wisely takes $32.5 million out of the foolish Film Grant program, which frees up that money for a better use in clean water management and parks and recreation funds.
- Putting money into tourism, historic sites, state parks, the N.C. Zoo, the N.C. History Museum, Fort Fisher, and the N.C. Museum of Art provides a wealth of opportunities for people across North Carolina.
- Dedicating funds to implement the new Voter ID requirement protects the integrity of free elections.
- Investing $3.9 billion in transportation and infrastructure projects, including road maintenance, airports, rail, public transportation and ports ensures goods, services and people move around and through the state safely, efficiently and freely.
- Only when we’re safe are we free, and significant investments in cybersecurity, national guard equipment, prison security, testing sexual assault evidence kits, the state crime lab, and court personnel, protect public safety.
Becki Gray is senior vice president at the John Locke Foundation.