Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Think you can’t stop progress? Pay a visit to the online home of the N.C. Progress Board and you’ll discover otherwise. The board’s Web site ( notes: “The office is closed in conjunction with a study to move the Board into a proposed new organization in the UNC University system.”
While that might sound innocuous enough, allow us to translate. What it really means is: We’ve lost financial backing from the state, don’t have friends in high places and are on the verge of death because of political indifference.
While the bulk of North Carolinians might be surprised to learn that the state even has such an entity as the Progress Board, it has been around for more than a decade. It was created under the administration of Gov. Jim Hunt with the goal of functioning as an independent advisory agency, removed from politics as much as possible, and adopting a long-term perspective that would help guide the state’s growth in important areas such as education, health care, environment and the economy. It would periodically make assessments in specific categories and issue suggestions for, well, making progress.
It was a good idea that never received much support once Governor Hunt left office. Although conceived as an independent agency, the Progress Board lacked its own research staff ó a decided disadvantage when you’re trying to present politically neutral data ó and it received tepid support from high-ranking state officials, including Gov. Mike Easley, who serves as the board’s chairman.
The end for the board came recently, when its funding was omitted from the state budget. As the notification on the board’s Web site notes, there’s a plan afoot to reconstitute the board as a research organization with the UNC system. The university system previously declined the Easley administration’s recommendation that UNC assume direct responsibility for the existing board.
At this late point, reconstituting the board under the aegis of UNC as a quasi-academic think tank may be the only viable way to preserve it. The UNC system has a ready supply of experts on any number of subjects, and they’re already engaged in researching some of the areas most relevant to the Progress Board’s mission. Even so, however, this smacks more of an attempt to make the board quietly evaporate into the halls of academia than a sincere attempt to help it fulfill its original goal.
That’s too bad. When it comes to public policy decisions, North Carolina could use more independent analysis and long-range thinking. It’s hard to find anything progressive in this back-door dismantling of the Progress Board.