Publisher's note: The author of this post is Becki Gray, who is vice president for outreach for the Carolina Journal, John Hood Publisher.
Over the last six years, bold, courageous North Carolina leaders have been willing to take risks, push the envelope, and offer unlimited opportunities for education freedom, for financial security, and for transformational reforms. Opportunities will continue.
Now that we know those reforms are working, we can pursue them with certainty - knowing they provide stability.
Our tax system has undergone big changes. The new fairer, flatter, simpler system is working. We need to let it work. Tax cuts are leaving more money in taxpayers' pockets without shortchanging core government functions.
All taxpayers have seen tax cuts - with a full penny break on the sales tax, a reduction in personal income rates, lowering the corporate rate, and increasing the zero tax bracket - everybody got a break.
The sales tax expansion of recent years has created confusion and fights from those who are now forced to be tax collectors. Let it ride. Keep the tax system stable for a few years. Allow the economy to catch up.
New tax reform should include a reform or repeal of the capital gains tax, which double-taxes the return on investments. Repealing the tax would return $500 million to the economy, making capital available for investors and job creators.
Great opportunities are now open to N.C. students through charter schools, improved traditional schools in a new Achievement School District, and private schools accessible through opportunity scholarships. But with the initial expansion of school choice came uncertainty of availability: between applications for new schools, acceptance of pilot programs and even lawsuits, many parents were left hanging, unsure if the opportunities would really be there for them.
Now they are. There's a 10-year commitment to fund and expand opportunity scholarships. Charter schools are opening to take kids off waiting lists, and 85 percent of charter schools have waiting lists. Proven turnaround teams will be coming in to rescue kids in failing traditional schools.
Parents have more choices, kids have more opportunities, and everyone has assurances that whatever option they choose is a solid one.
Teachers have received a 15 percent average pay hike since 2013. Teacher pay has climbed faster in North Carolina than in any other state during that time period. Average teacher pay will reach $50,000 this year and $55,000 over the next three years. Policymakers have ensured competitive base pay in North Carolina. Now it's time to focus on performance pay.
Pilot programs passed this year will pay extra money to third-grade teachers whose students pass reading tests. Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and industry-certification teachers will get a bonus for each test their students pass. Teachers who take on extra duties will get extra pay.
We need to expand bonus pay to reward excellence, keep good teachers in the classroom, and allow them to earn more for a job well done.
Higher education is an expensive commitment. It's a commitment of time - when, how long, and where does the student go? It's a commitment of money in tuition and fees. It's a commitment to the stress of coping with financial uncertainty from year to year.
We can offer more certainty and stability for N.C. families and students who want a college education without breaking the bank by focusing less on a highly subsidized, top-heavy system and more on making higher education available and affordable.
Easing access to higher education is worth pursuing through offering the first two years of a four-year degree at one of North Carolina's 57 community colleges with guaranteed admission to one of the UNC campuses.
Capping tuition at $500 per semester at some of the less-attended universities is a good way to increase enrollment and make college an option for some who never thought it possible. Guaranteeing tuition rates for eight consecutive semesters gives families the certainty to budget for a college degree and encourages students to finish their education in four years.
Fiscal certainty in budgets brings stability and financial confidence. The last three budget cycles have limited the increase of state government spending to the combined rate of inflation and population growth. A constitutional amendment requiring that kind of restraint would ensure it continues even under different leadership.
The state's savings reserves stand at 7.5 percent of the total General Fund budget. A goal of building that to 15 percent would ensure that North Carolina could ride out the next recession, natural disaster, or unexpected emergency without raising taxes or threatening core government functions.
While growth has been restrained and money has been set aside for savings, the state also has been paying down its debt by billions of dollars. Even so, the state still owes $8.1 billion. Next year's budget writers would be wise to continue to pay that debt down, ensuring a sound financial foundation for North Carolina today and a fiscally responsible path forward.