NC Budget and Tax Center

The new state labor market data will come out tomorrow.  Ahead of that and in light of the current discussion of unemployment insurance in the General Assembly, it seemed a good time to revisit the state of the labor market for jobless workers and the effectiveness of unemployment insurance in providing workers with the support they need while looking for work and in buttressing the economy.

Prosperity Watch this week looked at data available from the North Carolina Department of Commerce that shows at the county level the ratio of jobless workers to job openings. More than two-thirds of the state’s counties still have more jobless workers than job openings.  Even if all the job openings in those 83 counties were filled, there would still be workers looking for work.

Even while North Carolina has cut the number of weeks that workers can claim unemployment insurance, a lack of job openings means that a lot of people are spending prolonged periods out of work..  Despite the official recovery, one out of three jobless workers has been out of work for 26 weeks or more.  The long-term unemployed face a host of additional barriers to employment including discrimination in the application process, lapse in skills for the work place and mounting debt that may make transportation or housing difficult to sustain.

Unemployment insurance was designed to prevent just this kind of vicious cycle.  The system is meant to ensure that workers who lost their jobs through no fault of their own—like because of a business downturn—can meet their basic needs while they look for work and thus not withdraw completely from participating in economic life as consumers, renters or homeowners.  Today however, the system is not meeting that goal:

  • The state has a 15% recipiency rate, measuring the number of jobless workers who receive unemployment insurance, for the first quarter of 2015 which ranks us 47th in the country.
  • The state has an average weekly benefit amount of $231.30 which ranks us 47th in the country.
  • The average duration that a jobless worker receives unemployment insurance is 12.9 weeks which ranks us 45th in the country.

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NC Budget and Tax Center

The radical changes to the state Constitution passed out of the Senate today puts policymakers’ primary responsibility of creating a budget each year on auto-pilot.

These arbitrary and flawed formulas for spending growth and income tax collections will reduce revenue by nearly $2 billion annually and restrict access to the state’s rainy day fund in times of crisis. It’s clear these proposals are a fiscally irresponsible path that will harm our state’s families and future.

NC Budget and Tax Center

Last night on the Senate floor, the initial debate about a suite of constitutional changes that would undercut our state’s economy focused on having North Carolina voters weigh in on all three changes in one vote in March 2016.

These changes would:

  1. Limit investments in education, health, and other services through a rigid, arbitrary, and fundamentally flawed spending formula. A 2/3rd majority vote of legislators would be needed to override that formula.
  2. Cap the income tax at 5 percent, which significantly reduces the resources available to run our schools and maintain investments in other critical priorities.
  3. Limit access to the state’s rainy day fund – the Emergency Savings Reserve Fund – by requiring a 2/3rd majority vote of legislators.

The result of these changes to the constitution would be an ongoing and annual budget crisis in which revenues are dramatically limited—while taxes are likely increased for middle-class consumers and property owners—and a flawed formula determines spending each year, reducing the ability of policymakers to meet the needs of a growing economy.

As the debate continues on the Senate floor, it’s particularly important that lawmakers remember a two key things so they don’t fall for some of the most common myths about these proposals: First, there is no use having a rainy day fund for emergencies if you restrict access to those funds.  Second, tax and spending limits and formulas built into the constitution are anti-democratic because they limit the ability of lawmakers to craft budgets that reflect the will of the people. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

The Senate Finance Committee this morning voted to approve SB 607 which included a number of proposals that would make the state’s current economic challenges worse and undermine the foundations of a strong economy. This included an amendment to the constitution to cap the income tax at 5% and another undemocratic amendment creating a flawed formula-based limit on state investments that would force permanent cuts to education, roads and highways, health care and other key services that support our economy and quality of life. This amendment would also require a 2/3rd majority vote to increase spending beyond the formula. There is also a third amendment to the constitution included in the bill which would limit access to Emergency Savings Reserves by requiring a 2/3rd majority of legislators to access it.

The flurry of activity on tax and budget matters comes on the heels of the Senate announcement yesterday that they are willing to address certain policy matters outside of the budget, clearing the way for a final budget deal before the August 14th deadline.

A rigid, arbitrary, and fundamentally flawed formula for budgeting

The second proposed amendment which would remove authority from state lawmakers by setting an arbitrary formula for government spending has been tried in only one other state, Colorado, and has been widely acknowledged as a failure. In fact, it did so much damage in Colorado that voters chose to suspend it. Before they suspended it, this rigid formula forced drastic cuts to Colorado’s K-12 and higher education, and it became impossible for the state to keep pace with the rising cost of health care, forcing cuts to child immunization programs and prenatal health care. At the same time, it was clear that it was doing nothing to improve Colorado’s business climate, economy, or quality of life. As a result, business leaders in Colorado were major proponents of suspending the law.

The harm to Colorado was significant, but the use of such a rigid and fundamentally flawed formula would be particularly damaging in North Carolina where recent harmful budget cuts to our schools and other services average people depend on everyday would be locked in permanently and new emerging needs could not be met by future policymakers because their hands would be tied by this constitutional provision.  The capping of state spending to population plus inflation growth would lead to large, annual cuts that over time make it impossible to ensure a quality education for our children, maintain vibrant main streets in communities, and invest in the health and safety of families.

In North Carolina, such a rigid formula would mean forgoing an estimated $500 million in investments next year alone. This $500 million would provide for critical classroom funding for our kids, could allow the state to support rural economic development and support the research and development at public universities that drives innovation.

Additionally, it’s critical to understand that this type of law is a gimmick and does nothing to make government run more efficiently or ensure that tax dollars are well spent. Instead of making meaningful reforms, the proposal passed by the Senate Finance Committee simply turns lawmakers’ decision-making responsibilities over to a flawed formula. Meanwhile, it won’t do anything to make sure the state’s spending priorities are in line with the needs of North Carolinians or make the tax system fairer.

An undemocratic hurdle for our tax system

The other proposal passed today by the committee – a hard limit to the income tax rate of 5% would severely limit the state’s ability to ensure the tax code is adequate and fair over time. Such a proposal could cost taxpayers money by raising the cost of borrowing. It also would likely shift the financing of public investments to fees and other taxes that taxpayers will have to pay, including higher local property taxes, sales tax, vehicle fees, and college tuition.

These proposed constitutional amendments make it harder – not easier – for lawmakers to budget responsibly and they will weaken the foundation of our economy by ensuring the state cannot invest in its people and places. A budget that includes these flawed policy ideas will not help North Carolina move forward.

Commentary

This week will be commemorated as #wageweek by advocates, workers, and business leaders across the country. It was this week in 2009 that the federal minimum wage was last raised to $7.25 where it remains today.

The failure of the federal minimum wage to be raised in the past six years is just the recent failure in a long line of inaction that has allowed this wage floor to erode and with it an important check on rising inequality, economic hardship and inefficient economic performance.  The minimum wage is now far below what it actually takes to make ends meet for a worker and a labor standard that fails to reflect the modern economy.

Here are four facts about the minimum wage in North Carolina: Read More