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Opinion Really thinking about jobs

Last year, soon-to-be state House Speaker Thom Tillis began sporting a wrist ban reading, “Think Jobs.” The wrist ban was actually part of a campaign from the state's top business group, the North Carolina Chamber.

After the recently completed legislative session, Tillis and business leaders had something to crow about on the jobs front.

The Republicans now in charge of the legislature had kept a pledge to allow a two-year tax hike to expire on time. They had passed bills to change the state agency regulatory process, to limit medical malpractice awards against doctors, and to adjust the state’s workers compensation system.

They overcame gubernatorial vetoes in passing three of the changes.

Chamber president Lew Ebert, in a message delivered on the group’s Web site to members, called the legislation “an important signal” showing that “we are serious about growing jobs in our state.”

The jury is obviously out on whether the changes will make a significant dent in a state unemployment rate hovering around 10 percent. If you're a state employee laid off because of budget cuts, you also might have a different take on jobs than Tillis or Ebert.

Reasonable people can and did disagree about these key pieces of the legislation.

Setting aside those arguments, it's always seemed to me that business groups in North Carolina — including but not limited to the Chamber — have taken a fairly narrow view of job creation and what is and isn't pro-business.

They typically focus on the obvious — taxes and regulation.

For a lot of years, the Chamber and its predecessor, North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry, also pushed an agenda of public school improvement. Former president Phil Kirk even came in for some criticism when his efforts for public school reform didn't always mesh so nicely with some Chamber member's notions of lower taxes.

Still, the idea of being pro-business and pro-public education reform was hardly unusual in the 1980s and 1990s.

Where business groups have largely stayed on the sidelines is when it comes to reforming the political process itself.

Selling low taxes and less regulation is easy.

Not so easy: Making people understand that a part-time legislature with part-time pay doesn’t attract enough people who are qualified to see through complex legislation from beginning to end so that it's actually fit for public consumption; explaining to people that an unpredictable legislature with no set breaks also discourages capable candidates and staff; making people see that a legislative redistricting process that creates more and more safe districts means that ideologues from both parties become the norm.

If you haven’t noticed lately, dysfunctional, unpredictable politics is bad for business and bad for the economy.

Helping to shape a political system that encourages moderation, cooperation, professionalism and some level of predictability might do more, over the long run, for job creation than changes to tort law or workers compensation.

To understand that, you might actually have to “think” jobs, not just say or feel them.


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