NC Budget and Tax Center

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.

 

NC Budget and Tax Center

In the past week lawmakers in Connecticut and Maryland have taken steps to strengthen their state Earned Income Tax Credit. And by strengthened, we’re talking increasing the state’s EITC from 25% to 28% of the federal EITC. Meanwhile, North Carolina prepares to enter a legislative short session next week where lawmakers can boast to the claim of being the only state in the nation to eliminate the EITC in nearly 30 years.

North Carolina’s state EITC was a modest boost (starting at only 3.5% of the federal EITC in its inaugural year in 2007 and topping out at 5%) , but no doubt provided an extra couple hundred dollars in the pockets of working poor families to help pay the bills and put food on the table. On the whole, working families in all 100 counties of North Carolina infused over $100 million into the state’s economy in 2012 by spending their EITC to meet immediate needs.

Further, the EITC is one of the most effective child anti-poverty tools in the nation, with the federal EITC alone lifting almost 300,000 North Carolinians out of poverty, half of them children. Paired with a strong state EITC, families who work hard and yet still struggle to get by in difficult times can have the extra boost they need at tax time to make a needed car repair so they can get to work reliably, or pay a utility bill to keep the power on.

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NC Budget and Tax Center

When it comes to educating our children, the public is pretty clear in understanding you get what you pay for.

In a recent poll released by High Point University, 72% of respondents said they would favor a tax increase to raise teacher pay in North Carolina to the national average. These results are similar to a Public Policy Polling survey conducted in November which revealed that 68% of North Carolinians opposed cutting funding for public schools to provide taxpayers a tax cut.

Despite North Carolinians’ willingness to pay to ensure adequate funding of our public schools so that children can be better prepared for a 21st century economy, legislators moved in the opposite direction this past legislative session. Not only were teachers, whose salaries ranked 46th in the nation in 2012, denied a pay increase this year, but the salary incentive for teachers who earn master’s degree was eliminated and additional cuts were made to professional development and recruitment programs.

The legislature further undermined the ability of public education to prepare children for their future by reducing funds available for instructional supplies and textbooks, increasing teacher to student ratios and cutting funding for teacher assistants.

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NC Budget and Tax Center

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the start of the War on Poverty and Wednesday, January 8th in particular marks the 50th anniversary of LBJ’s speech in which America’s War on Poverty was declared. National media and political figures have been weighing in on whether the War on Poverty has worked, is a “Mixed Bag”, or has missed the mark. The Budget and Tax Center will be launching a blog series this month which will look in depth into the lasting effects of the War on Poverty, its successes, and the challenges that still lie ahead. We’ll also be doing some must-read myth busting as it relates to income and poverty.

What we do know is that the poverty rate has declined since the War on Poverty was declared, and it has declined even more significantly when supplements such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) are factored in. What we also know is that even as productivity of workers has increased, wages have stagnated for middle and low income families and inequality has continued to rise.

The War on Poverty and associated safety net programs, which have been a lifeline for millions of families, have done their job to the extent that we have let them. Going forward it is imperative to make adequate and real investments in the programs that we know work in lifting families out of poverty such as the EITC and SNAP, but also to tackle the broader issue of wage stagnation and inequality by ensuring, among other strategies, that we have a minimum wage that reflects the cost of living in the 21st century, and by taking a long hard look at the racial and class inequity that still plagues our nation and our state.

NC Budget and Tax Center

There has been a lot of talk in the state, national and social media world about North Carolina’s reputation as of late, and it doesn’t sound so good. Governor McCrory has repeatedly stated that he was concerned about North Carolina’s brand and intended to rebrand the state to make it more business-friendly. Turns out, North Carolina is already competitive and further, the US Chamber of Commerce tells us “North Carolina is home to a collection of powerhouse research universities and a network of higher education. With innovative and high-tech enterprises spinning from places like the Research Triangle for more than 30 years, North Carolina ranks 12th overall for technology and entrepreneurship this year. The state has the 13th-highest concentration of STEM workers and ranks 4th for academic research and development intensity.”   Read More