Things over at the General Assembly are just starting to warm up, but editorials in two of the state’s leading newspapers are already pouring cold water on one major conservative policy proposal: a constitutional amendment to cap the state income tax rate at 5.5%.
“The populist appeal of limiting taxes is obvious. Leaders are banking on voters taking a simplistic view of the issue, and supporting a cap on taxes, no questions asked. Republicans figure on a short-term political gain, nothing more.
But such a measure would hinder all future editions of the legislature. What if a natural disaster happened that took years to overcome? What if the state went into a deep recession? What if population growth made it necessary to find more revenue to provide basic services?
Oh, lawmakers would raise taxes, all right. But it wouldn’t be the most fair tax, the income tax, based on a person’s ability to pay. No, in need, those legislators would raise sales taxes and service taxes, which hit hardest the middle- and lower-income taxpayers. In fact, while cutting income taxes since taking over on Jones Street, Republicans have raised exactly those kinds of taxes to get more revenue.
This is political demagoguery at its worst. Lawmakers have no business tying the hands of those who’ll succeed them in the future.”
Meanwhile, yesterday’s Fayetteville Observer put it this way:
“The measure might be good politics, but it could lead to terrible governance and some dangerous unintended consequences….
Revenue has ups and downs. So does the economy. We trust our lawmakers remember what recession did to state revenue only a decade or so ago. There have been times in our state’s history when it’s been necessary to bump income taxes up, at least temporarily, to maintain essential services during economic downturns.
What happens if this new tax cap is installed in the N.C. Constitution and then we get hit with another Great Recession? If the revenue streams run nearly dry, what do we do? Lay off teachers and increase average class size to, say, 50? Do we let inmates out of prison because we can’t pay the guards? Triple tuition at state universities? Close state parks?
Over the years, we’ve seen lawmakers of both parties exercise responsible stewardship of the public’s money. This is a fiscally conservative state, no matter which party has been in charge, and we don’t see that changing.
Handcuffing lawmakers to a 5.5 percent tax rate may play well with shortsighted voters – and some shortsighted legislators as well. But it could come back to hurt us badly in the next downturn.”
Let’s fervently hope lawmakers are, for once, thinking beyond the next election.