By Colin Seeberger
This week, North Carolina kicks off what is bound to be a raucous 2015 legislative session. With important debates looming around the state’s support for higher education and access to affordable health care for young North Carolinians, the state might as well call this session: the Millennial legislative session.
As economic recovery begins, the General Assembly must decide how to invest in the state’s future. It should start by looking at two systems it has neglected – higher education and health care – and how these decisions affect young adults and the state’s economy.
Recent cuts to higher education threaten to drive tuition prices higher. Since the Great Recession, North Carolina has cut higher education spending per student by 13%, helping drive tuition at its 4-year public universities up by 35% – or twice the rate of inflation.
It makes sense that during an economic downturn, North Carolina – like many states – cut corners. But today, as more people go back to work, it is not fair to ask North Carolina students to pay more in tuition while the state doles out corporate welfare.
Unfortunately, that is exactly what’s been happening. In fact, North Carolina faces a budget shortfall of nearly $200 million, largely due to a series of tax reforms.
Rather than reinvest in its young people, the state has prioritized additional tax cuts that threaten economic growth. The General Assembly and Governor must reinvest in higher education this year to change this – and fast.
Yet combating college costs isn’t the only thing that North Carolina Millennials will keep an eye on this legislative session. There’s one other big economic challenge facing our generation. As the state’s most uninsured age group, young adults in North Carolina need expanded access to affordable health care coverage.
Unfortunately during the last legislative session, the General Assembly rejected the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion to accept billions in federal funding to provide free health coverage to the state’s poorest adults. North Carolina decided 553,000 of its lowest-income residents were too poor to be given access to an affordable coverage option. Up to 47% of these North Carolinians locked out of affordable health care are Millennials.
Ultimately, those who are suffering from the General Assembly’s refusal are North Carolina’s hardest workers — many work in restaurants or retail stores, while many more are in school working towards a degree. In a recent survey, 69% of young adults who did not complete college said that having insurance would have helped them “a lot” at earning a degree. Because earning a college degree can improve a person’s chance of landing a job to contribute to the economy, North Carolina needs to make it easier for its Millennials to get a degree, not harder.
Yet North Carolina is choosing to leave $51 billion on the table by refusing to expand Medicaid, while suffering from a significant revenue shortfall. Expanding coverage isn’t just a decision that would give North Carolina’s uninsured population greater financial and health security, it would also improve the state’s fiscal health.
It’s time for the North Carolina legislature to say that the interests of its young people are more important than partisan bickering and strident ideologies – and critical to economic stability.