Publisher's note: This post was created by the Staff for the Carolina Journal, John Hood Publisher.
Organization celebrating 25 years advocating limited government, opportunity
RALEIGH As the John Locke Foundation celebrates its 25th anniversary this month, it can look back on a quarter century of change, change in the state and in the organization itself.
From its early days in 1990 with a staff of two - political consultant and former Reagan administration official Marc Rotterman and recent college graduate journalist John Hood - to the present, with a staff of two dozen policy analysts, researchers, journalists, managers, and support staff, JLF has remained true to a singular goal: promoting freedom, limited government, and opportunity for all North Carolinians.
Over the past quarter century, JLF has worked tirelessly to educate policymakers and the public about the "blessings of liberty" and the benefits limited, constitutional government brings to people who are allowed to pursue their own dreams with minimal interference from the state.
JLF's accomplishments have covered myriad areas of policy and outreach, including:
Fiscal accountability/tax reform
JLF made a lasting impact on the direction of state government beginning in 1995 with the publication of its first alternative state budget. State legislators immediately adopted elements of the plan, which evaluated every function of state government, emphasizing the full funding of those areas that were aligned with the principles of the state constitution and the reduction or elimination of those that were not. As a result, the General Assembly enacted the first budget in modern history during a nonrecessionary year that did not increase spending.
In 2011, after Republicans took control of the General Assembly for the first time in more than a century, JLF research convinced lawmakers to move forward with a sunset of the sales tax hike imposed two years earlier, despite the objections of then-Gov. Beverly Perdue. The legislature was able to override Perdue's veto, returning more than $1 billion to North Carolinians.
The alternative budget has remained an ongoing JLF project. The proposal for the 2013-14 legislative session, titled "Budget for Growth," featured a series of tax reforms, program eliminations, and overall spending reductions resulting in a 0.2 percent reduction in General Fund spending. The General Assembly's final budget, signed by Gov. Pat McCrory, was guided by many of the principles in the Budget for Growth.
In the $21.1 billion General Fund budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year, spending increased by 2.2 percent, which is less than the combined rate of growth in the state's population and inflation. Moreover, the 2014-15 budget eliminated the so-called continuation budget - a series of estimates assuming that current services would be carried over into future fiscal cycles - replacing it with the "base budget," or a calculation of the money actually spent.
Shifting to base budgeting, a move long advocated by JLF, makes future budget projections more accurate while making it easier to hold government departments accountable to legislators.
In 2013, JLF published First in Freedom: Transforming Ideas Into Consequences for North Carolina, which includes tax principles adopted by the General Assembly with passage of a modified version of JLF's tax reform plan. The new tax plan replaced the state's tiered, exemption-riddled personal and corporate income taxes with flat-rate taxes.
The tax reforms passed over the previous two legislative sessions have impressed national observers, including the Tax Foundation, which catapulted North Carolina from 44th nationally to 16th in its State Business Tax Climate Index.
JLF's earliest policy initiative helped steer the debate that led to 1991 legislation returning some authority to local school districts. JLF also has led the way in urging standards and accountability for student achievement, in illustrating that North Carolina's testing program is inadequate, and in arguing for innovation, competition, and fewer regulations, resulting in the authorization of the charter model in the 1990s.
Since then, JLF has pushed to expand parental choice, arguing for legislation that - in recent years - removed the cap on the number of charter schools statewide at 100; established a program allowing tax relief for parents of special-needs children who educate their children outside the public school system; authorized the Opportunity Scholarship Program, giving low-income families grants to offset the cost of tuition in private schools; and protected the rights of parents who wished to educate their children at home. Homeschoolers now comprise more than 10 percent of K-12 students statewide.
Moreover, the efforts of JLF director of research and education studies Terry Stoops were crucial in convincing McCrory and legislators to repeal Common Core State Standards for K-12 students and instead embrace more-rigorous standards that will be tailored to the needs of North Carolina students.
In 1991, JLF introduced into the transportation debate the innovative options of public-private toll roads and expanding existing highway corridors using high-occupancy tolling lanes. Over time, some of these proposals have been incorporated into toll projects that are in use or in development.
In 2013, McCrory and state Transportation Secretary Tony Tata announced a new transportation plan that shifted the priorities for new construction to those corridors and areas that can reduce the most congestion or best increase the flow of drivers and goods. This plan closely follows ideas JLF has promoted since its inception that minimize the role of politics and cronyism in road-building projects.
Health care reform
JLF has been steadfast in its opposition to health care mandates and regulations that needlessly increase the cost of medical services and insurance coverage. JLF research has spelled out the high costs associated with the Affordable Care Act, and the McCrory administration along with the General Assembly both have resisted setting up a state-based health insurance exchange and refused to allow Medicaid expansion under Obamacare.
JLF also has made some headway in urging the General Assembly to unravel the state's burdensome and unnecessary certificate-of-need regime giving bureaucrats rather than the marketplace the ability to determine when and where health care facilities can be expanded.
Under the leadership of conservatives, the 2011-12 General Assembly launched a series of regulatory reforms supported by JLF researchers intended to remove needless bureaucracy and unnecessary burdens to entrepreneurship and individual enterprise. Among the reforms is a sunset provision, requiring periodic elimination of state regulations that do not pass a review by lawmakers. Additional regulatory reforms have enhanced the protection of property owners from local governments, enabled hydraulic fracturing - or fracking - as a means of fossil fuel extraction, and prevented local governments from mandating "living wage" payments to employees on government contracts.
JLF researchers and staff frequently brief legislative committees and community organizations about the foundation's policy work. Also, JLF is one of the few state-based free-market think tanks to have a full-time government liaison. Vice President for Outreach Becki Gray meets regularly with state lawmakers, executive branch officials, and local government leaders to inform them of policy initiatives and to seek their input regarding concerns for which the foundation could provide assistance.
JLF has worked with grass-roots and advocacy organizations across the political spectrum to accomplish shared goals. JLF has been active in a number of coalitions, including those seeking expanded ballot access for minor political parties; working to remove partisan politics from legislative and congressional redistricting; and pushing to increase transparency in government operations and wider access to public meetings and records.
JLF research staff and Troy Kickler, director of JLF's North Carolina History Project, joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers to support legislation compensating the surviving victims of the state's infamous eugenics program, under which over a four-decade period approximately 7,600 North Carolinians were sterilized because state officials considered them "undesirable." After nearly a decade of effort, in 2013 the compensation proposal became law, and $10 million was set aside for surviving victims.
As the John Locke Foundation enters its second quarter century, the research policy staff plans to continue promoting the ideas of free markets and limited government with intellectual rigor and clarity. Among the initiatives JLF plans to introduce include the First in Freedom Index (see related story on page 4), which will rank states based on the degree to which their fiscal, health care, and regulatory policies enhance freedom, along with a continuing focus on educational freedom, parental choice, and school accountability.
The organization will celebrate its anniversary at a sold-out dinner on Saturday, at which Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist and Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer will give the keynote address.