Sometimes ideas circulating around the Legislative Building provoke both laughter and scorn.
So it was with legislation that moved through a state House committee recently which would fund government by tax form check-off.
The proposal from House Republicans was ingenious really. If you want to give all or some of your state tax refund to the universities, just check a box. If you decided to designate that refund for the state's entire general operating fund, you could do that too.
Or you could check a box to give money to public schools, state museums, or for the health care of the poor.
As one supporter noted, you can currently make a check mark to give a few dollars for protecting little birds and furry critters. Why not everything else in state government?
That remark and others led to a few cackles around the room.
Democrats, though, called the legislation a political ploy, an attempt to call attention to their support of continuing a penny sales tax hike. Or, maybe it was meant to divide people: You give to the government functions that affect you; I'll give to those that affect me.
The Democrats weren’t laughing.
I can’t figure out why. After all, I’d like to de-fund a few things in state government. Right now, the state legislature is at the top of my list.
With a few minor changes, this legislation offers an excellent opportunity to create more responsive government.
We just need to add a few more boxes. So, here are some suggestions:
— A check-off to decide whether or not state legislators get paid each year. If feasible, responses could be sorted and results compiled by legislative district. That way not all legislators would be forced to suffer because of public disgruntlement regarding some of their colleagues.
— In that same vein, how about letting taxpayers use their tax forms to vote on whether various classes of state employees get raises each year? State leaders could be surprised to see teachers getting a vote of confidence. Highway patrolmen, on the other hand, should probably be prepared to live on a fixed income.
— Every few years, legislators and governors begin the refrain that North Carolina’s corporate income tax is too high. Let's see if the people agree. In fact, given that so few companies actually organize as corporations and pay at the corporate tax rate, the state could create a separate page on the tax form for people to decide which of the big, multi-state corporations get a tax break, and which pay more. This change would surely be accompanied by a huge upswing in customer service at major retailers and banks.
— Finally, how about a check-off to fund political campaigns so that the elected won't be beholden to the groups with legislation and state contracts before them? Oh wait, there’s already one of those. Now who wants to do away with that?