JOHN HOOD COLUMN: How North Carolina can expand opportunity

Published 9:24 am Friday, January 20, 2023

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RALEIGH — Having enacted major reforms of North Carolina’s tax code, regulatory system, budgeting process, transportation funding and education system over the past dozen years, what should the General Assembly do next?

John Hood

Phil Berger wants to double down on the legislature’s impressive record of conservative policy innovation.

“We must build on that success so future generations of North Carolinians can reach even greater heights,” Berger said after his reelection as Senate President Pro Tem on Jan. 11. “We must provide them with the tools needed to determine their future — from a world-class education to finding a good-paying job in a career of their choice, or to the freedom and opportunity to open their own business.”

After his own reelection as Speaker of the House, Tim Moore described a similar vision.

“Some of you represent communities where the population is going gangbusters, but others represent areas that are not seeing so much growth,” he told his colleagues. “Some of our challenges, as we move forward this year and enact policies, we will do all we can to make sure that the North Carolina dream of growing and moving forward is one that is enjoyed by everyone around this state.”

My colleagues at the John Locke Foundation, a nonprofit think tank based in Raleigh, have plenty of good ideas for turning this inspiring vision into a reality.

Here are several recommendations from their just-released legislative agenda for 2023:

• Lighten the regulatory burden. The General Assembly has already created a “review and sunset” process that requires every state rule to be reauthorized by a regulatory agency every 10 years. If that’s not done, the rule automatically disappears.

Locke analysts recommend that the review timetable be tightened to every five years, and that agencies be prohibited from implementing any policy, guidance or interpretive statement unless it is first adopted as a formal rule.

• Lighten the tax burden. In addition to the phased elimination of North Carolina’s corporate-income tax and already scheduled reductions in personal-income taxes, Locke analysts propose that the legislature repeal the state’s privilege tax, which makes it unnecessarily expensive for North Carolinians to create and operate small businesses.

• Promote affordable housing. One potential barrier to North Carolina’s continued growth, and to North Carolina families increasing their standard of living, is the rising cost of renting apartments or buying homes. Restrictive zoning, building and housing codes make it unnecessarily expensive to bring new inventory to market.

Locke analysts argue the legislature should limit the ability of municipalities to impose arbitrary minimums on lot sizes, home sizes, and parking.

• Promote affordable health care. Another potential barrier to our shared success is that medical care costs too much in many North Carolina communities.

Rather than simply trying to figure out new ways to shift the cost, lawmakers should enact reforms that would actually reduce the cost — by encouraging competition among hospitals and other providers, and by giving nurse practitioners more leeway to offer services in underserved areas.

• Expand parental choice and competition in education. To the extent some individuals, families, and communities have yet to share in the state’s improving fortunes, one reason is that schools aren’t instilling in our young people the knowledge, skills and habits they need to prosper.

Locke analysts argue both that lawmakers should continue to improve public schools and that parents need more options to meet the particular needs of their children.

• Expand freedom for workers. North Carolina still makes it too difficult for newcomers to fill jobs and for longtime residents to change careers. We need to reduce the number of occupations licensed by the state and allow professionals already licensed in another state to start working immediately in our state without having to jump through bureaucratic hoops.

Over the past dozen years, North Carolina has become a more attractive place to live, work, invest, and create new jobs. Wise policy choices by state legislators helped make that happen. The 2023 session presents many more such opportunities for reform.

John Hood is a John Locke Foundation board member.