The two candidates for governor have spent lots of energy and money debating whether North Carolina has lost our mojo, pointing out who is to blame. With days remaining before the November 6 election, it’s time to debunk the rhetoric.
North Carolina has lost significant momentum since the 1990s. We never fully recovered from the economic downturn of 2001 before we got caught in the backwash from The Great Recession. We lost more than 330,000 jobs, largely from tobacco, textiles, furniture and construction. Unemployment spiked at 11.4 percent and is now the fifth highest in the nation at 9.6 percent. Our population has grown by 20 percent since 2000 and our poverty rate is increasing. Those finding work often earn less than they previously earned. To be healthy we need a 3 to 4 percent rate of annual economic growth but this year’s first quarter growth of 2.3 percent has dropped to a projected 0.8 percent for the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, other states have adopted more progressive and effective policies, diminishing our claim as the “Dixie Dynamo.”
Does it matter who is to blame? The question our gubernatorial candidates need to answer is what are they going to do about it? We deserve a governor with more than glitzy ads and trite sound bites. We want solutions and, as Ann Romney said at the GOP convention, “We are too smart to know there aren’t easy answers. But we’re not dumb enough to accept there aren’t better answers.”
Here is a better answer. We can’t cut our way out of our economic problems. Yes, there is waste in government … too much waste. And we need to diligently identify and eliminate it. But just across-the-board spending and tax cuts don’t automatically equate to job creation. We’ve done this for several years with anemic job growth. Neither can we spend our way out of this malaise. Large increases in government spending will result in significant tax increases and in our weakened state this won’t create jobs or grow the economy.
If North Carolina is serious about creating jobs, if we are going to get real about righting our economy and if we are to regain our regional leadership position we need a balanced plan that employs cuts and spending. Let’s begin by modernizing our tax code, based on tax fairness, to eliminate many of the exemptions now allowed. Next comes zero based budgeting, where every agency has to demonstrate effectiveness instead of automatic budget continuation. Done correctly, these initiatives should free millions of tax dollars. We aren’t likely to return to the glory days in manufacturing but we can create construction jobs through a targeted infrastructure improvement program that will build and repair roads and bridges, water and sewer systems and public schools. With historically low interest rates, attractive construction costs and our Triple-A credit rating we can put thousands to work for a modest bonded indebtedness, repaying that debt through the savings we generated.
Pat McCrory and Walter Dalton are good men who want what’s good for our state, but both are trapped in campaigns that are neither instructive, productive or make either look gubernatorial. We’re tired of the same-old campaign bunk and want to vote for a real leader with a real plan. What about it Walter and Pat?
— Tom Campbell is former assistant North Carolina State Treasurer and is creator/host of “NC SPIN,” a weekly statewide television discussion of North Carolina issues airing Sundays at 6:30 a.m. on WRAL-TV and at 8:30 a.m. on WRAZ-TV FOX50. He can be reached at www.ncspin.com.