Yesterday, Gov. Roy Cooper released his plan for how to spend the $5.7 billion in federal funds coming to North Carolina as part of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan.
The governor’s proposal emphasizes this funding package as “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in North Carolina and ensure a shared recovery from the global pandemic.”
As an economist, I’ve dedicated my life to understanding the very nuanced, but massively impactful financial decisions governments have made and how they changed society.
After reviewing the governor’s proposal, I wanted to publicly state my strong support for his plan, not just as a fellow Democrat, but as an economist.
North Carolina has become a beacon for business and opportunity not by slashing corporate tax rates and deregulating industries, but rather because of the critical investments made over the previous decades by Democratic governors and Democratic General Assemblies. Investments in our transportation infrastructure, universities, public education system and public-private partnerships like Research Triangle Park are what have created the foundation for North Carolina’s growth in recent years.
North Carolina leaders used to look to the future and opted to play the long game, and they were right. Because of their foresight, North Carolina has weathered the pandemic exceptionally well largely due our key industries being able to continue operation and maintain revenue. But not every sector, and not every part of North Carolina has been so lucky.
As we continue to recover, the ARP funds should be invested in similar ways to yield additional long-term, positive impacts. Spending $1.2 billion to close the digital divide is perhaps the best way to ensure a positive impact, transform our rural economies and create a wealth of opportunities for our most vulnerable citizens.
With most businesses and educational opportunities having some kind of digital aspect to them today, making sure every North Carolinian has access to the internet allows our State to better compete in the present and educate themselves for the future, creating a digitally literate workforce and a desirable online infrastructure.
The governor further supplements North Carolina’s education by allocating $350 million to NC Guarantee Scholarships, $300 million to public education and $250 million to Extra Credit Grants. This money goes directly towards our children’s future and consequently our future.
Investing now will ensure that the future of North Carolina’s talent is homegrown, further attracting businesses with a workforce that is educated to compete in a globalized economy.
North Carolina has turned the corner in navigating this pandemic, and now it's time to lay the groundwork so our entire state can successfully recover and set the stage for a bright future.
I agree with Gov. Cooper that this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity we are facing. We owe it to the people of North Carolina to invest in our people, and our future.
Wesley Harris serves in the N.C. House of Representatives.