Opinion: Daily Journal

Defense of freedom continues in 2017

Regardless of the election results, on Wednesday all of us at the John Locke Foundation will come to work with the same goal we’ve had since the doors opened in 1990: Restraining government to its core, constitutional functions and enacting policies that expand freedom and opportunity for North Carolinians.

Here are two priorities for the coming year:

  • Keep government growth under wraps. For years, JLF has advocated keeping the increase in the state budget at or below the combined growth rate of inflation and population. During the past three budget cycles, legislative leaders and the governor have accomplished this. A constitutional amendment mandating such restraint would keep the growth of government under control no matter who’s in charge. When it takes less to fund the government, individuals have more resources to grow the private sector.

Demanding that government be limited to its core functions has led to the elimination and consolidation of programs and services. Every day we review, analyze, and recommend changes to make state government fulfill its core functions and then get out of the way.

Transformational tax relief began in 2011 by reducing the sales tax rate, lowering and flattening the personal income tax rate, and cutting the corporate tax rate by more than half. This has allowed N.C. taxpayers to keep more of their money to spend as they choose. We’re working to reduce or repeal the capital gains tax to spur more investment, additional cuts in the corporate tax, and — to help all families — an increase in the per child tax credit.

North Carolina’s state employee and teacher retirement fund is valued at $90 billion, and 900,000 employees count on it. By some measures, the fund faces a $34.5 billion long-term shortfall. Projections of future growth rates in the fund have been overly optimistic, leading the state to underfund its pension system and endanger its fiscal health. Action is needed now. JLF recommends moving from the current defined benefit pension plan to a defined contribution plan. Over time, state employees could gain more control over their retirement investments, reducing risk for the taxpayers.

  • Freedom to work; no permission slip needed. Every rule has a cost to comply. Sometimes it’s monetary, sometimes it’s a restriction limiting your actions, but often it’s a loss of freedom. North Carolina has 21,000 administrative rules, enacted by unelected bureaucrats. Thanks to a rules review process advocated by JLF, 6,000 of them have been reviews with 600 of them eliminated completely. That’s a start. We’ll put together a comprehensive analysis of rules and their impact on businesses so we can target with precision those rules that need to be amended, updated, or repealed to remove obstacles to freedom. Our review will be updated annually to ensure new rules enhance freedom.

North Carolina has 57 licensing boards that restrict participation in occupations, imposing onerous training requirements, burdensome rules, and application costs. These licensing mandates discourage entrepreneurship. JLF has led the efforts to repeal and reform occupational licensing requirements. We must ensure that the health and safety of the public is protected while assuring anyone interested in pursuing job opportunities has the freedom to do so. We will propose changes that free jobs and professions from onerous licensing requirements, ensuring everyone can pursue opportunities without needing a government permission slip.

Entrepreneurs also have been constrained by a massive, complicated, and outdated criminal code.  We will push for a task force to review thoroughly the state’s criminal code to eliminate penalties that punish entrepreneurs who violate obscure laws without knowing they’ve engaged in illegal activity.

These are only two of our freedom-enhancing priorities for 2017. Stay tuned for more.

Becki Gray is vice president for outreach at the John Locke Foundation.