Commentary

Editorial: Tax and service cuts aren’t the answer to North Carolina’s economic challenges

The Fayetteville Observer makes some excellent points in this morning’s editorial — “N.C. economy strong, but only in a few key places.” The central message: The conservative strategy of simply slashing taxes and services and then claiming that improving conditions in big metro areas driven by national trends amount to a “Carolina Comeback” is off-base. Here’s the Observer:

“The governor and many of his cabinet members are trumpeting this state’s economic resurgence as they head down the trail into what will be a hard-fought 2016 election.

And there’s no doubt that some of our numbers are good: Unemployment is falling steadily, even as jobs are created by new and expanding businesses and industries.

But what they’re not saying is important too: Most of that economic growth is limited to the Triangle and Charlotte, and growth outside those thriving centers is more anemic.”

After citing conservative economist Mike Walden’s decidedly-less-than rosy report from the other day for the proposition that more assertive action is required from state leaders, the editorial concludes this way:

“Job expansion is occurring in the low-paying service industries and in the lucrative ‘analytical and problem-solving occupations.’ That latter kind of job isn’t growing much in North Carolina, save around the Triangle and Charlotte. In cities like Fayetteville, though – and especially across most of our rural areas – the only job growth is among the low-wage occupations.

Unfortunately, we’re the poster child for a troublesome national trend. As Walden put it, ‘North Carolina can be viewed as “ground zero” for the seismic shifts that are happening in the economy.’

How does this state combat those shifts? It can start by making sure advanced technology – like ‘gigabit’ internet service – is available across the state, especially in small towns. It can help cities and towns develop in ways that attract the ‘creative class’ and the ‘knowledge industry.’ And it can offer better support to the arts, culture and especially to education at every level, because that’s how we attract the high-paying industries we want, and how we produce the workers those industries need.

We used to do that in North Carolina. Time to get back to it.”

In other words, market fundamentalist tax cuts and widespread disinvestment in public structures and services ain’t gonna get the job done. North Carolina needs a systematic, intentional plan in which public investments, structures and services boost economic growth — especially in the parts of the state being left behind.

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