A new, easy-to-use checklist will help voters and candidates focus on the most important issues facing North Carolina’s city and town governments. The John Locke Foundation is unveiling the checklist as candidates start cranking up their campaigns for the 2009 municipal elections.

“City council members throughout North Carolina hold the reins of the first level of government that affects most North Carolinians,” said Dr. Michael Sanera, JLF Research Director and Local Government Analyst. “With a proper perspective on the uses and limits of government, these leaders can foster prosperity in their communities through free individuals pursuing their own dreams without fear of the city arbitrarily curtailing their activities or usurping their property or wealth.”

More than 3,000 candidates will see the checklists soon in their mail. In just a dozen pages, the checklist compiles a list of 37 questions for candidates and voters to consult. Those questions address issues such as city budgets and tax policies, economic development plans, land-use and zoning rules, public transit services, and city use of eminent domain and forced annexation.

“Some of the questions are very simple,” Sanera explained. “Are supporters of new taxes or tax increases required to prove they are needed? Does the city leave convention centers, sports stadiums, and restaurants to the private sector?”

Other questions will require candidates and voters to dig beneath the surface of standard campaign rhetoric, Sanera said. “The first question in the checklist asks: Does the annual budget proposal show or graph local revenue adjusted for growth in population over the past 10 years?”

Simple or complex, all of the questions address issues important to voters and candidates who believe in limited government, Sanera said. “Those who want to learn more about each of the subjects covered in the checklist will find links to resources from the Locke Foundation that help explain the basis and rationale for the question and give more information about its application to city government.”

One checklist feature will help voters and candidates heading to public forums or candidate debates, Sanera said. “The checklist’s back cover condenses the entire 12-page document into a single card listing every question,” Sanera said. “People can tuck that card into their pockets and retrieve it when they need it.”

This first-of-its-kind checklist should remind candidates and voters about local government’s proper role, Sanera said.

“The council candidates’ checklist provides an easy method for examining city government services,” he said. “We believe city activities should be based on the same philosophy of limited government and respect for individual rights that animated the American Founders. The Founders believed that by keeping government constrained, individuals could pursue their hopes and dreams and the country would prosper.”

The checklist also encourages city leaders to stick to local government’s core mission, Sanera said. “Responsible city leaders ensure that the cities’ essential services are delivered in the most cost-effective ways,” he said. “Outside of public safety, that includes keeping costs low and service levels high by using competitive bidding and private-sector contracts.”

Several checklist questions focus attention on local taxes. “A low tax burden is a hallmark of limited government,” Sanera said. “Governments that stay within their bounds dont burden their citizens with excessive taxation.”

Other sections of the checklist highlight the importance of the rule of law, Sanera said. “Responsible city leaders are mindful of the unseen costs imposed by arbitrary zoning and land-use regulations and how they confound economic progress,” he said. “A key element of limited government is the rule of law rather than rule by unpredictable, capricious whim.”

Responsible city leaders also focus on protecting people’s rights to the “fruits of their labor,” Sanera said. “The state constitution protects that right,” he said. “City leaders who respect that right adhere to the traditional use of eminent domain.”

Voters and candidates can use the checklist to remind local government to keep its proper charge, Sanera said.

“Keeping city government within narrow bounds is difficult,” he said. “Numerous special interests lobby city council members to expand or adopt their pet projects. Federal and state money is offered to start or expand programs, each supported by special interests at those levels. City council members are under constant pressure from these powerful special interests and city bureaucrats who have vested interests in maintaining and expanding the activities under their purview.”

“Responsible city leaders recognize and resist these pressures,” Sanera added. “Council members must constantly rededicate themselves to serving the public interest by limiting government activities and respecting individual rights.”

The John Locke Foundation’s “Crucial Questions: A Checklist for City Council Candidates and Citizens” is available at the JLF Web site. For more information, please contact Sanera at (919) 828-3876 or msanera@johnlocke.org. To arrange an interview, contact Mitch Kokai at (919) 306-8736 or mkokai@johnlocke.org.