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Wednesday, 08 November 2006 00:00

The real work begins the day after the election

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By Rob Schofield

This year, those who care about preserving and expanding the common good in North Carolina would do well to treat Wednesday, Nov. 8, as less a day of celebration or mourning and more as the day on which they renew their commitment to studying and articulating a policy agenda that will help to build a modern, moral and progressive state.

Whoever gains control of the Congress of the General Assembly, the real results of the election will not be known until some time next year when new budgets and substantive laws begin to take shape. Here are some obvious areas in which to start the advocacy process:

 

Fairness

North Carolina needs a twenty-first century tax code that keeps up with the modern, service-based economy, more fairly distributes the responsibility for funding government, and allows it to make new and important public investments. The present system takes a much larger share of the incomes of the middle class and the poor than it does from the wealthy. Meanwhile, the corporate tax structure is riddled with so many loopholes that it has become increasingly meaningless.

Several times a year, we are reminded of the state’s badly flawed system of capital punishment that has come close to executing innocent humans. Next month, the system will put a mentally ill man to death who rejected court appointed counsel and wore a Superman T-shirt to his trial. North Carolina must enact a moratorium on the death penalty so that this badly flawed system can be reviewed and modernized.

 

Integrity

Despite last year’s legislative success in lobbying and ethics reform, North Carolina still has a long way to go in order to make the new system work. Not only must reformers work hard to help regulators implement the new law and look for ways to close the loopholes that remain, they may also have to fend off efforts by grumbling lawmakers and lobbyists bent on rolling back some of last year’s success.

At least two other critical items on the government reform agenda will require aggressive advocacy from a pair of coalitions. Advocates at the Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform will embark upon the difficult task of pushing for an independent redistricting commission in hopes of redrawing the state’s hopelessly gerrymandered and noncompetitive political map. Meanwhile, advocates at Democracy North Carolina hope to build upon the successful public financing experiment in judicial elections by branching into the legislative arena.

 

Public Investments

North Carolina cannot hope to be a modern, progressive, and competitive state if it leaves its future completely to the capricious whims of the global market. New and significant public solutions that benefit the common good will be necessary if the state wants to avoid the kind of economic and social divides that plague the developing world. Such solutions must address:

• Healthcare, where North Carolina’s current system leaves one in six without formal insurance coverage. The rest either suffer, die early, or are served through exorbitantly expensive “emergency” care – the cost of which is born by the rest of society in an extremely inefficient way. Corporate reductions in benefits afforded to workers and pensioners make things worse. The state must take aggressive steps to enact a high risk pool and expand publicly funded insurance (like the successful Medicaid program) while emphasizing preventive care and reasonable restraints on the profits and practices of insurance companies and big pharmaceuticals.

• Education, where despite significant progress and the fact that North Carolina’s K-12 and higher education systems remain its last best hopes for empowering widespread economic self-sufficiency, a loud and reactionary minority calls for a reduction in the commitment to public schools and a shift toward privatization. In 2007, state leaders must continue to reduce K-12 class size, expand investment in pre-school and childcare and restrain growth in college tuition.

• Affordable Housing, where soaring costs have placed home ownership (and even decent rental units) beyond the reach of hundreds of thousands of working families. After some success in last year’s budget, 2007 would be the perfect year for lawmakers to reward the work of a broad-based coalition of nonprofits and businesses who have long sought a $50 million annual appropriation to the State’s award-winning Housing Trust Fund.

• Environmental protection, where North Carolina’ exploding population and a need for economic development threaten to inundate the state in a foul combination of solid waste, water and air pollution. The coming legislative session will provide state lawmakers with new opportunities to increase investments in public land and to restrict pollution by corporate interests. They must not miss their chance.

Let’s get to work.

(By Rob Schofield, editor, NC Policy Watch)

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