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Planning for Change

What’s the Plan? Whether you’re a high powered CEO, the leader of a legislative body, or a stay-at-home mom who has every role from nurse to educator—there is a plan. Every day you get up, you’ve got a plan. Even if you’re a homeless person living on the streets—you’ve got a plan for the day. Even if there is no apparent plan, that’s a plan.

Many who work in the public policy arena want to know when our elected leaders will tell us the plan. We hear that hospitals are full and surgeons are busy as people rush to have elective surgery they fear will be prohibited under national healthcare reform. They are implementing a plan, based on what they think the government is going to do.

Basketball is in full swing and football is about over for the year, but every coach goes into each game with a plan of how they want their players to play the other team. They call it a “game plan.”

When it comes to public policy, however, there is a different dynamic at work. The party or coalition that has the most votes determines the plan, writes the rules, and passes the laws. We are seeing that at the federal level on an almost daily basis. Promises made in 2008 by President Obama and, presumably, by Democrats who were running for Congress are being put into action. We’re now finding out what all those plans were and what then-candidate Obama meant when he said, “We’re going to spread the wealth around.”

On a state level, policy direction is less clear. Because North Carolina has a Constitutional requirement for a balanced budget, the General Assembly must restrain their spending to fit the available income, or raise more funds by increasing taxes. Economists and budget estimators now say the State will face a $400 million budget shortfall when the legislature returns in May for their “short session” year. What’s their plan?

When the General Assembly is not in session, legislative study committees still meet to study various issues and make recommendations. These bodies can’t actually pass legislation, but they can make recommendations and introduce new bills. That is one of the reasons we monitor these committees all year long. That’s part of our plan.

One study committee now meeting is trying to decide how to consolidate several pre-school programs that have multiplied under a succession of “education governors.” The struggle to merge and reform these programs highlights the difficulty of modifying or eliminating a taxpayer-funded program once it is in place and develops its own constituency. Many such programs through state and federal government need serious attention and many have outlived their usefulness. With record deficits plaguing government at all levels, budgets cannot be balanced without taking a hard look at every program and evaluating both need and effectiveness. We hope these committees will take a hard look at numerous programs and develop a comprehensive plan to reduce the footprint of government.

As we begin the new year, many are glad that 2009 is over because that was the year their own plans were changed. Not that they wanted a change, but that change was forced upon them by a bad economy, business reversals, or government action. It’s this last area we focus on, and people we talk to are wanting to know—what’s the plan now that some of the old guard are leaving the North Carolina Senate.

We’ve seen it coming for a while. Older members of the General Assembly retire and are replaced by younger politicians. Increasingly, these new members come to power with a plan. No longer do we see them taking a backseat to those who are older and more experienced. New members are not patiently waiting their turn to head a committee, to introduce legislation, to bring their plan to fruition. Often, no one knows their plan but themselves—and there are 170 plans. That’s the number of legislators, and while every legislator may not initially be thinking deeply about every subject, eventually they all have to confront the specifics of each bill that makes its way through the committee process and onto the floor of the House or Senate.

This winter 2010 issue of Family North Carolina marks the first time we have put our annual votes paper in the magazine. Initially, this change was part of a plan to reduce mailing and printing costs. Now, it seems like a good idea because having the votes in the magazine, alongside articles on pornography, euthanasia, adoption, and other public policy issues, brings home the point that one day soon, votes on these matters may be recorded for all to see. Our plan is for you to understand the policy issues facing us now and in the future, for if we don’t, the change we get may not be the change we want.


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