Marion Johnson, Think NC First Policy Analyst

Most people’s New Year’s resolutions revolve around a few common themes. We want to live healthier, spend smarter, and be better to our loved ones. In that spirit, I have a few New Year’s resolutions for North Carolina. Here’s how I think the state can make 2015 the year of the true Carolina Comeback:

1. Expand Medicaid ASAP

Putting off medical attention until it becomes an emergency always winds up costing more. And putting off Medicaid expansion is now costing North Carolina to the tune of $2.7 billion in federal funding, $1.7 billion in gross state product, and 23,000 jobs across the state. Expanding Medicaid in 2015 will end this unhealthy and costly trend, and put North Carolina on the track to better health outcomes and stable budgets.

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2. Let working North Carolinians take a sick day

Over one million working North Carolinians don’t have access to paid sick days. That means that if they get sick, they have to make a difficult choice: stay home and miss out on the day’s wages, or go to work and risk getting sicker or making someone else sick. People without paid sick days are more likely to choose going to work sick, which means lost productivity, sick co-workers, and deferred medical attention. As long as working North Carolinians lack access to paid sick days, the state will continue to pay serious health and economic costs.
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3. Bring back the state EITC

In 2013, the NC General Assembly voted to quit one of its best habits – the Earned Income Tax Credit. The EITC essentially helps men and women who are working hard but still struggling to make ends meet. Between 2010 and 2012, the state Earned Income Tax Credit kept almost 300,000 North Carolinians – including over 150,000 children – out of poverty, shielding them from serious financial instability.

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4. Start budgeting responsibly

North Carolina has spent the last year following in Kansas’s footsteps. This means the General Assembly has been trying to cut our way to economic growth by drastically reducing revenue and slashing budgets. The results have been predictably bad – the state is now facing an enormous budget shortfall, and the huge job growth that lawmakers promised is nowhere in sight. North Carolina needs to learn from Kansas’s mistakes and pass a responsible, economically sound budget.

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5. Make public school funding a priority again

In the last few years, North Carolina has fallen behind other states in our commitment to public education. Our state is now 46th in the nation for teacher pay and 48th in school funding. And while North Carolina saw the country’s largest increase in public school enrollment between 2012 and 2013, our K-12 per-pupil funding actually fell. We can’t expect to grow our economy or our communities without strengthening our public schools.

6. Support equal pay

The average North Carolina woman working full-time earns $34,917, while her male counterpart earns an average of $42,146. That’s an annual shortage of $7,229. Over 500,000 families have women as their primary breadwinner, and roughly a third of those families are living below the federal poverty line. Equal pay would go a long way towards providing economic security to these families, rather than letting them continue to struggle.

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