It comes as no surprise to working families that North Carolina’s tax system is fundamentally unfair. Families who make less than $47,000 a year pay, on average, nearly 2 times more of their income in state and local taxes than those making more than $345,000. But taxpayers don’t have to accept this fundamental unfairness. One of the best ways for our state to improve the fairness of its tax structure is through reinstating a refundable Earned Income Tax Credit.
A new report, Improving Tax Fairness with a State Earned Income Tax Credit,  by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy shows just how effective a refundable Earned Income Tax credit (EITC) can be in counteracting North Carolina’s upside-down tax code.
Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia already have some version of a state EITC. Most state EITCs are based on some percentage of the federal EITC. The federal EITC was introduced in 1975 and provides targeted tax reductions to low-income workers to reward work and boost income. The federal EITC has targeted income limits to restrict eligibility and better support beneficiaries. By all accounts, the federal EITC has been wildly successful, increasing workforce participation and helping 6.5 million Americans escape poverty in 2012, including 3.3 million children.
In the same vein, states should look to the EITC to improve tax fairness.
North Carolina took that important step in 2007 by establishing an EITC at 3 percent of the federal credit which then subsequently increased to 5 percent. The average refundable state EITC is equal to 16 percent of the federal credit. When state lawmakers allowed our state EITC to expire after 2013, North Carolina had a refundable EITC at 4.5% of the federal credit, well below the average. In North Carolina, as in most states, it would take a fairly significant EITC to begin to offset the upside down nature of state tax codes.
As discussed in this report, lawmakers in Raleigh can take immediate steps to address the inherent unfairness in the tax code by reinstating a refundable state EITC. Ultimately, lawmakers should not only reinstate NC’s EITC but work to make it a higher percent of the federal credit. While it would cost revenue to reinstate North Carolina’s EITC, such revenue could be raised by repealing tax breaks that benefit wealthy taxpayers and corporations, which in turn would also improve the fairness of our state’s tax system.