What’s the theme for limited government, personal responsibility, opportunity and freedom across North Carolina for the 2018 election cycle? Keep on keepin’ on. Reforms since 2011 have transformed our state into an economic powerhouse, creating jobs and opportunities like never before.
Tax cuts begun in 2011 have put $5 billion back into the economy; $10 billion by 2022. All North Carolinians pay a lower personal income tax, businesses pay less, the sales tax rate is lower, and many taxes have been eliminated altogether. The zero-tax bracket has gone from $11,000 to $20,000, benefiting our lower income neighbors the most and removing the tax burden entirely for about 150,000 taxpayers.
Tax cuts don’t work when growth of government is out of control. Limiting the growth of government to the rate of population plus inflation has resulted in a more streamlined and efficient government, delivering core services and eliminating duplication and waste. With total spending now in excess of $50 billion a year, keeping the growth of government in check ensures future sustainability of core government functions and a healthy balance between public and private sectors of the economy.
In 2007, the state’s borrowing was a whopping $6 billion; by 2015 it was $3 billion with a continued commitment to borrow responsibly with taxpayer approval and pay down what’s owed. Faced with a $2.6 billion debt to the feds for unemployment benefits in 2011 and a determination to get out from under that crushing obligation, the $2.6 billion has been paid off completely.
After years of big government expansion and a national recession, all reserve and savings accounts had been raided. Today, for the first time, 8 percent of the state’s budget is in savings. A new law requires 15 percent be placed savings.
Rules and regulations created and enforced by unelected bureaucrats are a drag on the economy and impinge on individual freedom. Regulations cost North Carolinians up to $25.5 billion every year. Under a 2013 reform, rules are reviewed every 10 years to determine whether they work, are needed, outdated or just more trouble to impose than the benefit they offer. As of January, 13,469 rules have been reviewed; 62 percent remain as they are, 26 percent are subject to changes and re-adoption, and 12 percent have been eliminated.
Leaders have also made smarter investments.
Teachers’ base salaries now average about $50,000. Add in benefits and the average is an all-time high of $64,000 a year. Good teachers have more opportunity to earn even more with bonuses tied to third grade Read to Achieve success, fourth- and fifth-grade reading and math, advanced course completion, and other opportunities.
More families have more choice to find the best education for their student. Most parents choose the traditional public school, but 7 percent choose to homeschool, 6 percent attend private schools, and 5 percent attend public charter schools. The number of charter schools has grown from about 100 in 2011 to 174. Even so, 55,165 students sit on waiting lists to get into charter schools. Opportunity scholarships allow students with special needs from low-income families to attend private schools that better meet their needs. More than 3,100 students are on waiting lists for the voucher program, and a new education savings account is available for students with disabilities.
Lower taxes, limited government, paying down debt, building reserves, reducing barriers, and smarter investments have paid off. In January 2011, the state’s unemployment rate was 10.40 percent. In January 2018, it was 4.5 percent. More than 440,000 net new jobs have been created since 2013. According to economic growth indicators such as median household income, per capita income, and gross domestic product, job growth rate North Carolina is outpacing growth in our region and the country.
The Tax Foundation’s business climate tax index says North Carolina has gone from 44th in 2010 to 11th today, the biggest jump ever. The poverty rate has gone from 17.9 percent in 2011 to 15.4 percent in 2016.
These pro-growth policies have led to a healthy economy offering more opportunity, more jobs, more independence from government interference. In other words, more freedom for all North Carolinians. Let’s keep it going.
Becki Gray is senior vice president at the John Locke Foundation.