RALEIGH — The General Assembly is three months into the long session. More than 1,700 bills have been filed with fewer than 50 (as of this writing) now law.
The first bill signed into law encourages students to develop job skills through expansion of career and technical education. The next ones include a measure shoring up a $2.4 billion unemployment insurance debt; a bill to shift funding from textbooks to digital learning; a decision not to operate a state based health exchange and reject an expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare; and setting a sunset on a wasteful and ineffective earned income tax credit.
With an early summer adjournment expected, lawmakers have only a few months to tackle the remaining big issues and make good on campaign promises to get our economy moving, stimulate long term growth, and create jobs. Tax, regulatory, and education reform are key components to fiscal recovery and a healthy economy.
For two decades, attempts to reform our outdated tax system have failed. Current proposals include some old ideas: Expand the state sales tax to include more than 100 new services; reduce the personal income tax; scale back the corporate tax; and rewrite the franchise tax.
It will take comprehensive reform and a new type of revenue generation to spur real economic growth. One proposal would replace current personal, corporate, and estate tax revenue with a consumption-based flat tax of 6 percent. The plan also would lower the state sales tax to 4.5 percent. Under this plan, Experts predict a $4 billion growth in income (and an extra 10,000 jobs) this year, rising to $5.8 billion and an extra 14,000 jobs by 2017.
A budget for the next two years will be enacted before July 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year. Gov. Pat McCrory’s $20.6 billion proposal offers fiscally responsible priorities. McCrory imposes no new taxes and no additional debt while setting aside $600 million in reserves. He proposes no major new programs, ends raids on the Highway Trust fund, and diverts $75 million from Golden LEAF and the Rural Economic Development Center — programs that reward political cronies and have no taxpayer oversight. He leaves a surplus for the next fiscal year.
Legislators would do well to adopt McCrory’s budgetary priorities, halting a long history of reckless spending and regulatory overreach. As they move toward a final budget, lawmakers should consider decreasing spending and scaling back corporate welfare programs. A comprehensive evaluation of incentives and a rewrite of film industry tax credits are long overdue.
Jobs require a well-educated work force. Measures are needed to ensure accountability so taxpayers, parents, teachers, and employers know that a high school diploma has value. Reform bills affecting traditional public schools include measures to modify teacher tenure, strengthen teacher education and licensing standards, increase transparency on school performance, and study performance-based teacher pay.
While most families choose traditional public schools, the expansion of charter schools, a new voucher to enable low-income families to attend private schools, and a scholarship grant for children with disabilities allow parents to determine the best options for their children. Competition and choice is the best way to improve education and provide a well-educated work force.
Overly burdensome regulations stifle economic growth. A periodic review and scheduled expiration date for rules is a being considered. The Rules Review Commission should be authorized to review not only new rules but also existing ones.
With just a few months left, the General Assembly still has important issues to tackle. Economic recovery depends on lawmakers adopting comprehensive tax, education, and regulatory reforms.
Becki Gray is vice president for outreach at the John Locke Foundation.