Despite headlines in the July 6 Raleigh News & Observer clamoring about the “middle-of-the-road” nature of the current General Assembly, the simple fact is that North Carolina’s state government has taken a decidedly leftward turn over the past six years. Conservative ideals have been shelved. An activist government has taken over, ready to solve our state’s problems through higher taxes, more regulation and less individual freedom. When comparing the legislation enacted in North Carolina to that of its neighboring states, the contrast becomes clear – North Carolina has become more like traditional liberal Northeastern states than its southeastern counterparts.
With the left’s gains plainly evident, now more than ever, North Carolina needs true conservative leadership. A conservative General Assembly would return fiscal discipline to our state, and steer us away from the reckless tax-and-spend path that has become the norm in Raleigh. A conservative General Assembly would give our state true education reform, instead of the status quo that simply pours more money into a failing system and jumps at every request of the teachers’ union. A conservative General Assembly would ensure that all North Carolinians’ property rights are secure, instead of simply ignoring the threats to one of our basic constitutional rights. Other areas such as rational transportation funding, cracking down on illegal immigration and ensuring a just, secure and accurate voting process would also be priorities.
Taxes and Spending
Despite $3.5 billion in budget surpluses over the past four years, there has not been any significant broad-based tax relief given to all North Carolinians, only increased government spending. In fact, half of the “temporary” sales tax increase has been made permanent, a $350 million per year tax on low-income individuals has been instituted (the North Carolina “Education” Lottery), and the state’s corporate tax rate remains the highest in the southeast.
For comparison’s sake, let’s look at the tax changes North Carolina has made this year relative to its neighbors. North Carolina, with its $1.4 billion surplus this year raised taxes by $260 million by making the “temporary” sales tax permanent, offering only targeted tax relief for the working poor, upper-income individuals, and a select few companies. South Carolina and Georgia, each with similar budget surpluses cut taxes for their residents. South Carolina eliminated the lowest marginal income tax rate (2.5 percent tax bracket went to 0 percent), while Georgia gave rebates on property taxes.
A conservative-led General Assembly in North Carolina would make tax relief for all North Carolinians a priority. Reducing the sales tax to its 2001 level would be a good first step. Conservatives would almost assuredly look at reducing the state’s 6.9 percent corporate income tax rate – a built-in disincentive for companies to expand and grow. The high corporate tax rate, along with relatively higher sales and income taxes, make the cost of doing business in North Carolina higher than in neighboring states – which stifles economic growth and job creation.
But steps must also be taken to control the reckless policies, which have seen state spending grow by nearly 20 percent over the past two years. A conservative General Assembly would give North Carolina an opportunity to implement a Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR), which would cap spending growth to the rate of population growth plus inflation. Had a TABOR been in place these past two years, hundreds of millions of dollars would have been returned to the taxpayers instead of being spent on expanding social welfare programs, which dictate further spending in subsequent years and leave more citizens dependent on government.
A conservative General Assembly would also give greater scrutiny to the seemingly endless corporate giveaway packages, which have grown in popularity over the past few years. The General Assembly and the state have given away hundreds of millions of dollars to multi-billion dollar corporations, most famously the more than $250 million in tax breaks given to both Dell and Google, as well as $60 million in cash was given to Goodyear and Bridgestone. Other programs, such as the One North Carolina Fund, which basically allows Governor Mike Easley to give cash to companies, would hopefully be ended. The money saved on these programs could be used to reduce the corporate tax rate for all North Carolina businesses, instead of handing out cash to a chosen few.
Other issues such as ending the transfer of funds from the Highway Trust Fund and implementing zero-based budgeting would also be top priorities of a conservative General Assembly.
Illegal immigration is an issue that has dominated the agenda in many states, yet North Carolina has done very little to deal with this expanding problem. While states like Georgia, Colorado and Nebraska have enacted sweeping reform measures making it more difficult for illegal aliens to receive government benefits, North Carolina elected officials have sat idly by and watched the problem grow in intensity and scope while taking no action. And through their inaction, they have made North Carolina a more inviting place for illegal aliens to take up residence and drain public resources.
A conservative General Assembly would take similar measures to that of states like Georgia, Colorado and Nebraska in making our state a less hospitable place for illegal aliens. One could easily assume that a conservative General Assembly would enact barriers for illegal aliens receiving all non-emergency government services, mandate that employers verify an employee’s legal status with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and enact a ban on those who cannot provide proof of residency from receiving in-state tuition at North Carolina colleges and universities, and from receiving driver’s licenses.
One way a conservative General Assembly would help fight illegal immigration would be to assist in funding the federal 287(g) program, which allows county sheriffs to assist federal agencies as immigration officers. The state could step to the forefront and provide funds for each sheriff to hire and train deputies to handle illegal immigration issues. A conservative General Assembly would make it a priority to see that the laws of our state and nation are enforced.
If a clear message is sent by a conservative General Assembly that illegal aliens are not welcome, they will leave – opting for other more welcoming states, or their home country. After Georgia’s new illegal immigration crackdown measure went into effect on July 1, a report a week later on television station WGCL-46 stated that illegals were fleeing the state for more hospitable states like “North Carolina” or going back to Mexico. A conservative General Assembly would make sure that North Carolina was not an easy option.
A conservative General Assembly can give North Carolina an opportunity to make fundamental changes in the way our children are educated and move away from the status quo of simply throwing more money at a failing system. The current political leadership sees education as a problem that can be solved with more funding, enrolling all children in government-run preschools and hiring more teachers.
Significant educational reform can only occur by giving parents a choice in their child’s education, either through increasing the number of charter schools, allowing parents to choose the public school they want their child to attend, or by establishing a scholarship program to assist parents in sending their child to a private or parochial school.
As conservatives, we believe in fair competition, and that should not be limited to schools competing over students. Individual schools should have to compete for teachers as well, with principals given more authority to actively recruit and pay good teachers more. When parents have a choice of where to send their child and schools have a choice in recruiting and paying teachers, true educational reform will occur. A conservative General Assembly would bring about the changes necessary to make those reforms happen.
Again, a look to our neighboring states shows what could be happening here if conservatives were in charge. Just a few months ago, the South Carolina General Assembly passed basic school choice legislation, allowing a small number of parents to decide which public school their child would attend. However, Governor Mark Sanford (a featured speaker at this year’s Civitas Institute Conservative Leadership Conference) vetoed the legislation saying it didn’t go far enough to give true choice to parents, and that it still locked too many students into failing schools. Meanwhile, the Georgia legislature enacted legislation that allows individual school districts to become charter school districts, which would remove them from control of bureaucrats at the Georgia Department of Education. All of this and more could be possible with a conservative General Assembly.
As government regulation continues to extend its creeping hand further into our lives, each person’s individual property rights continue to erode. New regulations detailing just how and what a person can do on their own property seem to be introduced daily, all under the guise of protecting the environment, stimulating economic development, proving better health regulations, or some other liberal fantasy du jour. A conservative General Assembly would ensure that North Carolinians’ property rights are constitutionally protected.
Without a doubt, one of the first issues a conservative General Assembly would take up is a constitutional amendment regarding the legal uses of eminent domain. Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2005 Kelo v. City of New London decision opened the door for the usage of eminent domain for private economic development projects, individual states have begun to pass their own constitutional amendments to protect citizens from this misuse of government power. While Georgia, South Carolina and Florida have passed eminent domain amendments to their state’s constitutions, North Carolina has not. Our elected officials repeatedly claim that the current law is sufficient.
A second point of emphasis a conservative General Assembly would make is on the issue of forced annexation. As our state’s urban areas continue to grow, more and more people are being sucked into incorporated areas by municipalities without their consent. The stories of abuse are horrendous with some people paying property taxes to cities for years before receiving city services.
A conservative General Assembly would see this practice stopped. Legislation would be enacted that would not allow municipalities to collect taxes on property until basic services are provided. Ideally, the practice of forced annexation would be banned altogether, with residents of a community being able to vote on whether to be annexed or remain independent. Georgia recently took a good first step towards ending this practice by enacting a law that says all annexations must go through binding arbitration first.
Voting and Elections
There is no institution of our democracy more sacred than the security and integrity of our voting process. A conservative General Assembly would ensure that every vote counts and protect this institution by requiring a government issued photo ID in order for a person to register and to cast a ballot.
Fundamental reforms to our current election systems would also be a priority of a conservative General Assembly. One of the most egregious abuses of incumbency power and anti-democratic processes we have is the current redistricting process. A conservative General Assembly would end the process by which elected officials are able to choose their constituents – legislative districts – by instituting an independent redistricting commission that would draw fair, constitutional districts that protect communities of interest, and implement an elections system where voters actually have a choice at the ballot box.
Other meaningful reforms might include ending the wasteful and unmanageable public financing of political campaigns, term limits for legislative leadership, and true campaign finance reform that respects a person’s constitutional right to free speech.
A conservative General Assembly would also address many issues the current General Assembly chooses to ignore. For example, all executions under the death penalty are currently halted due to a pending court challenge and the N.C. Medical Board’s threat to discipline any physician who participates in an execution. Instead of solving this problem and issuing new rules, the General Assembly did nothing this year, effectively, allowing a moratorium on the death penalty to remain in place. A conservative General Assembly would act swiftly and decisively to allow the death penalty to resume.
A Conservative Approach
The single biggest reason North Carolinians need a conservative General Assembly is to change the current philosophy that government can solve all the problems and that it is the government’s responsibility to care for all the people. The General Assembly we’ve had for the past 10 years has been content to increase taxes, spend more money and increase the size of government, and create more social welfare programs that makes our state look more like California and Massachusetts than our southeastern neighbors. A conservative General Assembly would follow Ronald Reagan’s philosophy of growth through lower taxes and less government intervention, individual responsibility and more personal freedoms.
There’s no doubt that a conservative General Assembly would have more faith in people and free markets than in government programs and bureaucrats. It would offer new directions based on time-tested conservative standards and ideas, instead of the liberal agenda and liberal failures. A conservative-controlled legislature, in Reagan’s words, would “reorder the relationship between citizens and government.”