The 2013 legislative session has at times been contentious, sometimes controversial, often frustrating, but in the end, very successful. This has been a good session for fiscal responsibility, government efficiency, common-sense reform, school choice, and accountability. State government has made protecting freedom a priority.
Here are a few highlights:
• One of the first issues addressed was preparing young adults for careers by increasing access to career and technical education in high schools and refocusing skills training in community colleges, particularly in areas with high unemployment. (Senate Bill 14)
• The General Assembly started getting the state’s fiscal house in order by accelerating repayment of a $2.5 billion debt owed to the federal government for unemployment insurance. Overly generous long-term benefits were trimmed, too. Instead of providing $535 maximum weekly benefits for up to 26 weeks, North Carolina’s benefits are now in line with nearby states at $350 a week for 20 weeks. Employers must contribute more, and the unemployment reserve fund is being replenished. As a result, the debt to the federal government will be repaid three years early. (House Bill 4)
• North Carolina made the critical decision to opt out of the Obamacare health exchanges and
Medicaid expansion. Instead the focus will be on fixing a broken and expensive Medicaid system by offering real reforms, cost containment, and better patient outcomes. By saying no to the exchanges and expansion, the responsibility for a deeply flawed and widely unpopular health care policy stays right where it belongs — with the federal government. North Carolina decided to focus on fixing health care. (Senate Bill 4)
• Unlike previous General Assemblies and governors, the 2013 session reformed North Carolina’s outdated, cumbersome, and complicated 70-year-old tax system. The new tax plan lowers and flattens the personal income rate to 5.75 percent, broadens the sales tax base by eliminating dozens of exemptions, and phases down the corporate tax to as lows as 3 percent. The death tax was eliminated and the gas tax capped.
Most taxpayers will see a tax cut under the new plan, while a few — some married couples with three or more children and those whose annual income comes mostly from self-employment or pensions — may see a small increase. With competitive tax rates to encourage and entice businesses, all North Carolinians will benefit from a more robust economy with more and better jobs. According to the Tax Foundation’s State Business Tax Climate Index, this tax reform package catapults our state from 44th to 17th nationally. (House Bill 998)
• Economic growth and long-term recovery need more than a better tax code; they require less burdensome regulations. For the third straight year, the General Assembly passed a reform bill. This one calls for periodic and regular review of rules to make sure unnecessary ones are repealed, necessary rules are maintained, and those we’re not sure about get a complete, public review and common-sense reform. Costs associated with implementation and compliance will be considered. (Senate Bill 74)
• Wise investments in infrastructure also spur economic growth. Rewriting the state’s equity formula will allow transportation dollars to be spent on priorities and take politics out of highway building and maintenance. (House Bill 817)
• Efforts to curtail unsustainable growth in government started with sounder budgets in the last biennium. The $20.6 billion 2013-14 General Fund budget is fiscally responsible with no tax increases and no new debt. Instead of new programs, there are efficiency and accountability measures. Responsible funding sets aside money for the state’s depleted reserve accounts. (Senate Bill 402)
• More of the state’s debt, including Certificates of Participation, will require voter approval. (Senate Bill 129)
• Funds are available for opportunity scholarships, letting children from low-income families attend a private school, if that is the best option. Local school districts will gain more funding and more flexibility to best meet their needs, reducing mandates from Raleigh. Teacher tenure will be replaced with regular evaluations based on how well students are learning. (Senate Bill 402)
It hasn’t been easy, but this General Assembly and administration are on the right track. This session signaled a commitment to a government that allows taxpayers to enjoy the fruits of their labor, encourages personal responsibility, and protects liberty. Before you know it, First in Freedom should be more than an old license plate slogan in North Carolina.
Becki Gray (@beckigray) is vice president for outreach at the John Locke Foundation.