Where's the plan?
With respect to our legislators the current talk of a tax reform plan makes about as much sense as hopping in a car and striking out to California without a GPS or road map.
No doubt our tax codes are antiquated and need reform but before settling on categories and rates to tax let’s take the time to develop a comprehensive plan for our state.
You can’t hit a target you don’t have and North Carolina hasn’t had an economic development plan for so long most of us can’t even remember one. The same is true for infrastructure. And nobody can question that we just respond to one crisis after another regarding health and human services or education, the two categories that consume 80 percent of our state’s general fund expenditures.
What do we want North Carolina’s economy to be 10 years from now? What is the ideal mix of jobs we want from agriculture, tourism, manufacturing, biotech, construction or other economic sectors? What education or skills must workers have in order to get and keep these jobs? What must our public schools, community colleges and universities be teaching to ensure students have the skills they need and what are our priorities for government? What kind of transportation system will be needed to convey goods, services and people throughout our state? Wouldn’t we be well served to know these answers before reforming our tax code?
In the summer of 1930, when this state was in the throes of The Great Depression, Governor O. Max Gardner recognized the need for having a plan and hired The Brookings Institution to “promote increased efficiency and economy in the conduct of the governmental affairs of the State.” The resulting plan helped lift us out of the depression. We don’t need a Washington think-tank today and we certainly aren’t in quite so desperate a financial condition as the one Gardner inherited. We’ve got some of the best educators, business people, public policy think tanks, religious and civic minds to be found but the need for a plan is just as critical.
The time is right. North Carolina is slowly recovering from The Great Recession and government revenues, while not rosy are stable enough to allow us some breathing room to develop a plan. We’ve got a new leadership team in place in state government and great talent at our disposal. Now would be a perfect time to bring together the best brains and charge them to develop The North Carolina Plan, a top to bottom approach to charting the future for our state. To make sure we come out with a sound practical plan the planning group should include all political parties and philosophies, all disciplines, as well as all geographic and demographic sectors. Can’t you just imagine how exciting it would be to have our best and brightest creating comprehensive plans for our future?
Development of such a plan wouldn’t take years. With proper encouragement and support we should be able to develop strategies in a matter of months and the time spent planning would surely pay huge dividends for decades to come. Let us encourage our leaders to take the time to plan the work ahead; then we can work the plan, which certainly must include fixing our tax code.
Tom Campbell is former assistant North Carolina State Treasurer and is creator/host of NC SPIN, a weekly statewide television discussion of NC issues. Contact him at www.ncspin.com.