What the legislature should (but won't) do to get North Carolina moving forward

Published May 16, 2014

By Tom Campbell

by Tom Campbell, Executive Producer and moderator, NC SPIN , May 16, 2014.

At the beginning of every legislative session it is good to take stock of where North Carolina is and where it is headed. No doubt legislative leadership will point with pride to their 2013 legislative accomplishments but before taking a victory lap perhaps they need to consider the bigger picture.

Economists agree that the biggest economic downturn since The Great Depression is now behind us. North Carolina’s unemployment rate, which peaked at 11.2 percent in 2009, dropped to 9.4 percent by January 2013 and now equals the national average of 6.3 percent. But there’s more to this story. John Quinterno, head of South by North Strategies, a research firm that specializes in economic and social policy, says North Carolina has fewer jobs, more unemployed residents and a higher unemployment rate than we reported six and a half years ago.

More importantly, the 1.6 percent pace of payroll growth has not improved over the past year. “No matter how one cuts the data, North Carolina has experienced the same slow rate of job growth for the last four years,” Quinterno states. The Office of State Budget and Management reaffirms that lack of growth by reporting collections are 2.1 percent below what was anticipated and will result in a $445 million state budget revenue shortfall for the year ending June 30th. It also downgraded next year’s revenue projections by almost $200 million.

North Carolina’s economy is sluggish, at best. Employers are not hiring because they don’t trust this economy. Banks are not lending for much the same reason. Fewer employed residents earning fewer dollars will trickle through every sector of our economy and continue this tepid growth.

To jump-start our economy we need look no further than our history to show us how. Following the Revolution we built 500 miles of “plank” roads. In 1856, the North Carolina Railroad opened 233 miles of track between Charlotte and Goldsboro. In 1921, Governor Cameron Morrison convinced the legislature and the public to pass $50 million in road bonds and we built 5,500 miles of roads. Following World War II, Governor Kerr Scott led a successful $200 million road bond effort for farm to market roads. But the biggest of them all was the $3.1 billion higher education bond package passed in 2000.

Be assured there were voices throughout that history saying that we couldn’t afford it, that it wasn’t government’s function and that the timing wasn’t right. Fortunately we had bold progressive leadership that didn’t listen.

The lesson is clear: To significantly improve North Carolina’s economy we need a well-planned public infrastructure improvement program, financed by low-interest rate bonds repaid in large measure by resultant growing tax revenues. 28,000 new private-sector jobs will be created from every $1 billion spent in construction.

From 2000-2010 North Carolina’s population grew by 18 percent, about 100,000 people per year. 20 percent of our population is under age 18, demanding more public school buildings. DOT says we need to spend more than $25 billion to build new and repair current roads. Other reports estimate the needs for expanding and repairing water and sewer systems at $30 billion.

We need public infrastructure and we need jobs. But mostly what we need to get our state moving forward is bold leadership.

May 16, 2014 at 10:57 am
Mike Armstrong says:

It's nice to call for bold leadership but an accurate reading of NC's history, we find that it wasn't necessarily bold leadership as much as it was good management. Today's planners would probably recommend more "plank roads" and rail service between urban areas. Infrastructure is nice if it satisfies real needs or resolves real problems. Fact is, very few people trust today's government to be truthful more than political. We must be willing to move forward and that would begin with the realization that "there is no such thing as PUBLIC education" It was shot in the sixties and was ultimately burried in 1982 under the US Dept of Edukation. We are told that the cure for every problem starts with public education requiring more and more money for every conceivable purpose except educating. It has become a gigantic fraud perpetrated by politicians of every stripe. When we implement a free-market, consumer-driven economy, infrastructure and other needs will take care of themselves. Relying so heavily on News and Observer propagandists is bad policy for NC Spin.

May 19, 2014 at 1:59 pm
Ron Woodard says:

We do in fact need more citizens working. If our NC General Assembly corrects the earlier weakening of our State E-Verify law, then more citizens will get new jobs and limit the ability of illegal immigrants to acquire jobs that belong to citizens. Nationwide the Pew Hispanic Center says only 4% of jobs held by illegal immigrants are related to agriculture....no more than 10% in NC. Of course we can count on the NC Chamber of Commerce and the fast food and construction industries to continue to fight any loss of illegal cheap labor. The NC Farm Bureau does the same instead of really pressing for changes to the migrant worker visa program. Over 225,000 illegal immigrants hold non-farm jobs illegally in NC. Sadly few state officials and business leaders care if jobs are held by illegal aliens.....there's too much money to be made by businesses keeping them and politicians receiving campaign donations to do nothing about illegal immigration while the average citizen provides government benefits to the illegal immigrants, allowing in effect "subsidized illegal labor" to the unscrupulous companies who knowingly hire them.