Short legislative session can be effective

Published March 3, 2016

By Becki Gray

by Becki Gray, John Locke Foundation and NC SPIN panelist, March 3, 2016.

The 2016 legislative short session begins April 25. While continued uncertainty over congressional (and even legislative) district maps could cut into the General Assembly’s calendar, there are a number of moves our elected officials could make this year to highlight economic growth — fairer taxes, fewer barriers to building businesses, education options that work for all, patient-driven health care, lower energy costs, and a sensible criminal code.

As you’d expect, we have a few ideas:

• Further tax reform with a fairer, simpler system that encourages economic growth and respects wage earners. Eliminate the bias against savings and investment by reducing or removing the tax on capital gains. Allow all business expenses to be written off in the year they are incurred. Increase the standard deduction (the zero percent tax bracket) to let all taxpayers shield higher incomes from income taxes. Expand the per-child tax credit, recognizing that an investment in children yields positive returns.

• Roll back regulations that stifle economic growth, discourage entrepreneurship, and create barriers to entering professions. State regulations cost North Carolina’s economy between $3.1 billion and $25.5 billion yearly.

A state-level REINS Act would require any rule with a major economic impact on the people of North Carolina to receive legislative approval and the governor’s signature before it is enacted.

Occupational licensing poses a barrier to entry, increases the cost of services, and discourages entrepreneurial activity. North Carolina has some of the nation’s most restrictive occupational licensing requirements. Many should be repealed.

• School choice puts parents in charge of decisions about which education options work for their children. Invest more in private-school scholarship programs for low-income and special-needs students. Encourage the growth of strong charter schools. Strengthen virtual schooling options by expanding access and enrollment. Safeguard the right of parents to educate their children at home.

• Teacher pay should reflect success in the classroom. Teachers willing to tackle hard-to-teach subjects and teach in hard-to-staff schools should get more money. Principals should be equipped with the knowledge and authority to manage their schools to attain highly competent, motivated staff.

• Promote patient-driven rather than government-driven health care. Certificate-of-need laws laws create barriers to the expansion of medical services to the detriment of competition, patient access, and care. The federal government repealed its CON mandate for states in 1987. North Carolina’s should go as well.

Medicaid consumes 17 percent of North Carolina’s General Fund budget, and it’s the fastest-growing part of the budget. Expanding Medicaid under Obamacare would cost millions of dollars, leaving taxpayers on the hook indefinitely. About 82 percent of those newly insured would be able-bodied, childless adults. They need jobs rather than dependence on welfare.

• As long as the renewable energy industry gets subsidies and special treatment, power costs will continue to rise on the backs of North Carolina consumers.

North Carolina is the only state in the Southeast with a renewable energy mandate. Ours eventually will require utilities to provide 12.5 percent of their energy from conservation and renewable sources. Since the renewable mandate took effect in 2008, North Carolina’s electricity rates have increased about 2 1/2 times faster than the national average, costing jobs and economic growth. Repeal the mandate and focus state energy policy on ensuring the least-cost, most-reliable electricity sources.

• Many North Carolinians unknowingly commit crimes every day. Our state criminal code has more than 700 crimes, significantly higher than the number in neighboring states. A bipartisan legislative task force to eliminate overcriminalization is needed to consolidate, clarify, and simplify our bloated criminal code.

A short session does not mean an ineffective session. We have a plan. Let’s get started.

Becki Gray (@beckigray) is vice president for outreach at the John Locke Foundation.