Once, it was possible to have a debate over whether North Carolina should play the incentives game — granting tax breaks and cheap land and all sorts of infrastructure in exchange for a major manufacturer agreeing to bring jobs to the state.
But intense competition, particularly with other states in the Southeast, pretty much put the debate away. The state has to play the game, Republicans and Democrats agree.
The breathless anticipation and then, the heartbreak over losing out to Alabama for a Toyota/Mazda plant this week, however, ought to prompt a fresh overview of incentives — how much the state should invest in them, what types of incentives should be granted in exchange for certain jobs, etc.
But also important is to consider whether incentive money might be better invested, at least in part, in things like training at community colleges, or improving schools in low-wealth counties where middle-income jobs are rare. That doesn’t seem to be a compelling argument for Republicans, who have failed to support public education and higher teacher pay (beyond showy election-year raises) but are all in for corporate giveaways.
No, incentives aren’t inherently bad, and they’ve improved considerably from the times of a few years ago when they seemed to be given with no strings attached. Now, at least, the awarding of incentives is tied to job creation, and certainly in North Carolina it’s important to have sound, long-term, well-paying jobs.
And, it’s amusing to a point to see how Republican leaders in the General Assembly can bring themselves to support and even praise Gov. Roy Cooper, Democrat in charge, when it comes to incentives. “I want to sincerely thank Gov. Roy Cooper and Sec. Tony Copeland (Commerce secretary) for their tireless efforts to recruit the (Toyota/Mazda) plant to North Carolina,” said none other than Sen. Phil Berger, president pro-tem of the state Senate and the legislature’s most powerful Republican.
Mercy. Perhaps Cooper ought to rename “Medicaid expansion” as “Auto plan recruiting fund” and talk to Berger about it again.
North Carolina needs, in addition to incentives for companies, true investment in its people in ways that will benefit entire families: Better job training for parents, better high schools and middle and elementary schools for younger kids, better health care. These are things with lifetime benefits that will help people qualify for jobs and improve their futures beyond their working lives.
If Republicans and Democrats can unite about business recruitment, they ought to be able to join on other “make the state better” efforts and more “help people bring themselves up” campaigns.
State officials were immensely pleased in their recruitment of this auto plan to be able to “put $1.5 billion on the table.” Now let’s see them put a lot more than that on the table — for the needs of all citizens.