NC Budget and Tax Center

A report by the Tax Foundation, funded by the NC Chamber Foundation, gets it wrong in its assessment of the impact of tax changes made by state lawmakers in recent years. The plethora of charts and figures created by the Tax Foundation fails to detail the important loss of revenue that has hindered the state’s pursuit of important foundation-building for a strong economy—investments in schools, research and development, entrepreneurship and innovation. The assessment also masks the shift in tax responsibility to the majority of North Carolinians and away from the wealthy and profitable corporations.

Proclaiming that the state’s tax climate has leapt from one of the worst to now one of the best largely as a result of tax cuts provides no insight regarding the fiscal and economic health of North Carolina. Just as a good accountant understands that positive business earnings don’t equate to a financially sustainable enterprise, this reality also applies to tax policy and the economy. In fact, the Tax Foundation’s rankings reflect little more than the tax policies they and their corporate funders want to see rather than a robust body of evidence about what economies need to prosper. In fact, the pursuit of low-taxes has not been demonstrated to consistently deliver the economic returns promised.

Below are three notable takeaways from the Tax Foundation’s assessment of tax changes passed by state lawmakers since 2013. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

The September local employment numbers highlight the persistent jobs challenge that North Carolina faces. At a time when local economies across North Carolina continue to experience the realities of an uneven recovery that has yet to return to pre-recession conditions, Governor McCrory will likely sign a bill today that will further negatively impact our state’s workers and families.

The expected signing of HB 318 means that the time limit on food assistance will go into effect  for 77 counties that qualify for a waiver due to weak labor market conditions. This could result in up to 105,000 childless North Carolinians losing food assistance, driving up demand at local pantries and holding back consumer spending in local groceries.

The latest labor market data show just how damaging the timing of HB 318 could be. All but one metropolitan area and the overwhelming majority of North Carolina’s 100 counties still have more people looking for work than before the economic collapse in 2007. This trend highlights the persistent jobs challenge North Carolina faces – more people desire to work than are jobs available to meet this demand for employment.

“There is a persistent narrative when assessing local labor market conditions in North Carolina. The recovery has been uneven and is bypassing a lot of people who live in both rural and urban areas,” said Cedric Johnson, Policy Analyst at the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. “In light of the labor market news, it is still clear that there are too few jobs for all who want to work in North Carolina.  Moreover, there are also too few skills training opportunities for those who seek retraining for new careers.”

Key findings from the county data include:

  • Only 22 of North Carolina’s 100 counties have reached the 5 percent threshold for unemployment that many economists view as full employment.
  • The number of people looking for work is still higher in 81 counties than it was before the recession.
  • 65 of North Carolina’s 100 counties have not gotten back to pre-recession levels of employment.
  • 16 counties actually lost jobs over the last year.

Key findings from the metropolitan data include:

  • 8 of North Carolina’s 15 metropolitan areas have added jobs since the start of the Great Recession. However, the number of people looking for work has grown much faster in every metropolitan area except one (Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton) during that period.
  • In 14 of North Carolina’s 15 metropolitan areas, the increase in the number of people looking for work is more than 20 percent higher than pre-recession levels.
  • Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton is the only metro area to experience a decline in labor force (2.8 percent), number of employed workers (2.8), and number of workers looking for work (3 percent) since the start of the Great Recession.
NC Budget and Tax Center

The latest quarterly revenue report by the General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division (FRD) highlights that tax cuts do not explain the better-than-projected income tax revenue collections for the most recent fiscal year 2015.

According to FRD, two factors likely affected income tax collections for the most recent fiscal year.

  • Corporate taxable profits accelerated as wages remained low and write-offs on losses from the recession dwindled. This pushed collections 21.2% above forecast expectations.
  • Timing in personal income tax collections from changes enacted beginning with the 2014 tax year meant lower monthly withholding revenue – but higher final payments and smaller refunds in April. The forecast didn’t fully capture those dynamics leading to a shortfall the previous fiscal year and a surplus in FY 2014-15.

There’s evidence to support these two points. Corporate profits are at a record high as the economy recovers in part due to a steady increase in productivity. Meanwhile, wages for workers have remained stagnant – an indication that workers have not participated in the economic gains during the ongoing recovery. Furthermore, FRD notes that tax changes in recent years made it difficult to determine the timing of income tax revenue collections, resulting in a projection that was well below actual collections for FY 2014-15. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

The budget passed by state lawmakers last week expanded the sales tax base to include additional services that are not currently taxed. Accordingly, the repair or upkeep of a vehicle, the repair of a broken washer or dryer, or the maintenance of an air conditioning unit will now be subject to the sales tax.

It appears that the weekend gave policymakers time for some second thoughts about their plan, however. This week, state lawmakers are now aiming to pass a bill that will roll back one particular aspect of the sales tax base expansion included in the budget.

House Bill 117 (HB 117) includes a provision that would exempt repair, maintenance, and installation services on tangible property and motor vehicles covered under manufacturer or dealer warranties from the sales tax. Accordingly, under HB 117, if your vehicle or tangible property is covered under a warranty then you don’t pay a sales tax on repair and upkeep services. To the contrary, if your vehicle or other tangible property is not covered under a manufacturer or dealer warranty then you will pay more in sales taxes.

This tax change means that two people can own similar tangible property, but one could potentially end up paying more in sales taxes simply because they don’t have a manufacturer or dealer warranty. This is troubling because it is likely to particularly harm low-income taxpayers who already pay a larger share of their income in taxes compared to the well-off. Low-income taxpayers who have to take their non-warranted vehicle to an auto shop for an unexpected repair will pay more in sales taxes, for example. Meanwhile, those who are able to afford costly warranties will escape having to pay more in sales taxes.

The backtracking on services included in the sales tax base expansion contradicts state lawmakers’ supposed commitment to base broadening on principle. Broadening the sales tax base has been sold as a way to make the state’s tax code more effective and ensure that it reflects a more service-oriented economy. That appears to be the case only if powerful lobbyists don’t object. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

As part of ongoing negotiations to produce a state budget, state lawmakers would like to provide more tax cuts to North Carolina taxpayers. This tax proposal, while unclear in the details (is it another reduction to the already low 5.75 percent personal income tax rate?), would offset the increase in various DMV fees included in the budget passed by House members.

A refundable state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a great way for state lawmakers to fulfill their desired goal of ensuring working families aren’t paying more as a result of their budget choices. The EITC provides a modest boost to the wages of low- and moderate-income workers, which will help offset additional costs resulting from an increase in DMV fees. Prior to its elimination in 2014, more than 927,000 North Carolinians claimed the state EITC, with working families in each of the state’s 100 counties benefiting from the tax credit.

State lawmakers’ reported agreement to provide $110 million in tax cuts to offset the DMV fee hikes is close to the value of the state EITC. For FY 2013, prior to its elimination, the state EITC cost around $101 million, which is less than the tax cut target agreed to by state lawmakers. The EITC is the best targeted tool to address the upside-down nature of the state’s tax code. Better than an increased standard deduction, the tax credit is proven by years of experience and research to effectively target working families who earn low wages so that they can make ends meet, support their children’s healthy development and boost the economy.

If state lawmakers are serious about correcting the imbalance in the state’s tax code, a refundable state EITC is the most effective way to support children and working families and help spur economic activity in local communities across the state.