NC Budget and Tax Center

Don’t let tax refund delays cost you: Three things you need to know

Many North Carolina taxpayers will have to wait a little longer this year to receive their federal tax refund than in previous years. A federal law passed in late 2015, the PATH ACT, aims to prevent tax identity fraud, one of the fastest growing types of fraud. Because of this law, the IRS will delay issuing refunds for taxpayers claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) until February 15. It should be noted, however, that the share of tax returns that incorrectly claim the EITC, the noncompliance rate, is lower than various other parts of the federal tax code.

As North Carolina taxpayers prepare to complete and file their tax return, here are some facts and resources that are available to help taxpayers keep more of their tax refund dollars in their pockets.

  • North Carolina taxpayers can have their tax returns completed and filed free of charge at Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites located across the state. VITA tax preparers are trained and certified, and so tax filers can be confident that their tax return is completed and filed accurately. To find a VITA location, visit the IRS site (click here) and use the VITA/TCE Locator Tool near the bottom of the webpage, or call 1-800-227-7669.
  • The IRS also has a Free File Program, which provides online tax preparation software that helps qualifying individuals with an income of $64,000 or less file their federal taxes free of charge. Taxpayers are encouraged to use these services – the Free File Program and VITA sites – to help them navigate this year’s delay and keep 100 percent of their federal refund. These free tax preparation services help consumers avoid alternative tax preparation services that offer quicker refunds but cost more as the result of high-interest payday loans or costly short-term advances.
  • Tax filers should be sure to know how much they are charged by tax preparers to complete and file their taxes, prior to performing the services. Tax preparer entities are required by law to inform customers of the charges and fees associated with their respective services – these costs should be provided prior to performing the services. If this information is not publicly available, tax filers can contact the North Carolina Department of Justice, Consumer Protection Division and report this issue.

Nearly 1 million North Carolina tax returns claimed the federal EITC and more than 715,000 claimed the ACTC, according to the most current available IRS data. Helping taxpayers reduce the risk of falling victim to tax identity fraud is important, which can be detrimental to taxpayers in the long run. Furthermore, ensuring that tax returns are filed accurately is important to upholding the integrity of our federal tax system. Using free tax preparation services such as VITA sites and the IRS Free File Program helps in meeting these goals, while allowing taxpayers to keep more of their tax return.

NC Budget and Tax Center

Disaster recovery bill a good start, but a sustained commitment is needed

State lawmakers have proposed providing $200.9 million in one-time state funds to assist with recovery and relief efforts resulting from Hurricane Matthew, wildfires in the Western part of the state, and Tropical Storms Julia and Hermine. A little over half of the relief aid comes from drawing down the state’s Savings Reserve Account, which has a current balance of nearly $1.6 billion. The other half of relief aid is unappropriated funds in the state budget for the current fiscal year.

The disaster recovery funds are allocated to eight different entities and the proposed bill specifies the intended use of funds, such as providing state matching funds for federal disaster assistance program, helping meet short-term housing needs of affected individuals, assisting affected counties with resilient redevelopment planning, grant and loan programs for affected businesses, and grants to local governments for infrastructure construction, among other permitted use of funds.

The proposed legislation represents a promising start in that it provides needed resources to assist in rebuilding more resilient communities—and is explicit in that goal for long-term transformation of the region. However, approximately 88,000 homes were damaged with a total loss of more than $967 million. That is far great than the impact of Hurricane Floyd in 1999 when a total of 56,000 homes were damaged. Moreover, entire towns were flooded to the rooftops. More than 8,000 businesses have requested assistance due to physical or economic impact loss. Wildfires in western NC have resulted in more than 62,000 total acres burned.

The scale of the damage is large and will require a sustained commitment at the state level beyond providing one-time disaster recovery funds. This will require lawmakers to ensure that adequate state resources are available for subsequent disaster recovery assistance and not at the expense of foregoing public investments in our public schools, healthcare services for the elderly and poor, access to an affordable college education. However, the disaster recovery bill could potentially mean borrowing against next year’s budget because it requires the Governor to recommend replacing the $100.9 million in Rainy Day Fund dollars committed in the current relief aid bill in his 2017-18 budget. Requiring cuts to next year’s budget to pay for hurricane assistance today would only hurt the kind of ongoing investments needed to help these communities rebuild and thrive.

Lawmakers can ensure adequate revenue is available for relief aid and public investments by stopping yet another corporate income tax cut. Halting this tax cut would create $349 million in revenue to make that commitment this year, which would help ensure all North Carolina communities can thrive.

NC Budget and Tax Center

The stakes are high, NC should reverse course regarding tax policy

The costly tax cuts Kansas lawmakers passed in recent years have had a negative economic and fiscal impact on the state that serves as caution for North Carolina. Leaders in both states have expressed a desire to ultimately eliminate their respective income tax and rely more on the sales tax to fund core public investments. This tax shift would largely benefit the already well-off and powerful corporations and threatens to make North Carolina a less attractive and competitive state.

Both states are pursuing a dangerous course towards a damaging outcome. Kansas’s sprint toward this outcome provides a grim picture of what North Carolina can likely expect should we stay on this perilous path.

The failed Kansas experiment poses damaging consequences to the long-term health of the state. The state faces a persistent state budget deficit that in recent years have resulted in Governor Brownback using public education funding, highway money, state dollars for health care services, and increased sales taxes to plug the budget gap. Despite these efforts, Kansas still faces a $345 million budget hole.

Kansas lawmakers predicted a boom in job growth and the economy as a whole thanks to their massive tax cuts, but that boom never materialized. Instead, state revenue declined by 30 percent and, as the Kansas Center for Economic Growth highlights, personal income growth for Kansas only increased 1.6 percent, compared to 2.8 percent for the region and 3.1 percent for the nation since late 2012. As for public education, the state’s Supreme Court is scheduled to determine whether Kansas will be required to spend upwards of $500 million for school upgrades across the state, including in economically depressed areas. This ruling will address a 2014 ruling by the state’s highest court that disparities in public funding of education violated the state’s constitution. The stakes are high for Kansas and its nearly 3 million residents.

The stakes are also high for North Carolina and its more than 10 million residents. And as our state continues to grow the stakes will get higher. North Carolina lawmakers passed tax cuts in recent years that will reduce annual revenue by more than $2 billion. These are resources that could be used to fund our public schools, where state support remains below pre-recession levels. They could be used to provide health care services for a growing aging population and the poor. They could be used to reduce persistent wait lists for Pre-K and childcare subsidies. They could be used to ensure that a post-secondary education at public colleges and universities remains affordable for all North Carolina students.

North Carolina should get off its current path of prioritizing tax cuts over public investments. We have an opportunity to reverse course and avoid the likely damaging outcome that lies ahead, as can be seen in Kansas. Let’s take heed and reposition our state for a prosperous future.

NC Budget and Tax Center

PATRIOTIC MILLIONAIRES make strong case for raising the minimum wage

A group of successful well-off business leaders makes it clear that raising the minimum wage is a good thing for businesses, North Carolina and the national economy. A statement released by Patriotic Millionaires, a group of high-net-worth Americans who are committed to building a more prosperous, stable and inclusive nation, states that the core intent of recent legislation passed by North Carolina state lawmakers – known as the “bathroom bill”—was designed to prevent cities and towns across North Carolina from putting more money in the hands of potential customers. This was achieved by state lawmakers prohibiting the ability of local governments to increase their respective minimum wages.

Here are some facts regarding public support for raising the minimum wage.

  • 80 percent of business leaders nationally support a higher minimum wage, finds a survey conducted by the US Chamber of Commerce. The public is likely unaware of this fact because the US Chamber is against raising the minimum wage, so suppressing this important fact serves the national Chamber’s interest.
  • The majority of Americans support raising the minimum wage, with nearly half supporting raising it to $15 an hour.
  • 62 percent of North Carolinians support a minimum wage of $15 an hour. Despite this majority support, state lawmakers refuse to take action on this issue.
  • Consumer demand represents 70 percent of the nation’s economy. Accordingly, increasing the amount of dollars in workers’ paychecks by raising the minimum wage contributes to a stronger, more robust national and state economy.

Read more

NC Budget and Tax Center

Latest revenue forecast shows state’s economy only in line with national recovery

Even though North Carolina has collected more money than initially projected this quarter due to a moderate but steady ongoing economic recovery, it’s still far too little to pay for the investments our state needs to thrive. Tax cuts for the wealthy and powerful have reduced the money that would have otherwise been available to North Carolina to invest in our communities.

For the first quarter of the current fiscal year (July through September), General Fund revenue was $158 million, or about 3 percent, above the cautious target set by state officials. This does not suggest that all is well here in North Carolina, which becomes evident when assessing the health of state investments in local communities across the state. There is still far too little commitment to building thriving communities through investments in the classroom, community economic development, infrastructure, public health and environmental protection.

Beyond the $158 million figure, the latest quarterly revenue report released by the NCGA Fiscal Research Division highlights additional noteworthy points regarding the state’s economic and revenue landscape.

  • The early months of the fiscal year are typically the least important months as an indicator of revenue outcomes for the full fiscal year. Revenue performance during the second half of the fiscal year provides a better sense of overall revenue performance.
  • The national economy hasn’t been able to accelerate into overdrive and continues to move at a steady, moderate pace. North Carolina has yet to experience a robust expansion as a result. The revenue report also highlights that the improving economy has been insufficient to produce robust employment and consumer markets.
  • State officials see no sign of acceleration on the horizon.

The report also notes that state officials were necessarily cautious with their forecast and expect moderate, steady economic performance for the remainder of the fiscal year. In the wake of tax cuts passed by state lawmakers in recent years that largely benefit the well-off and that will reduce annual revenue by more than $2 billion once fully in place, the report supports two particular realities.

  • The costly tax cuts have not spurred economic growth and the creation of new jobs. The revenue outlook report notes that North Carolina economy mimics that nation’s steady, moderate recovery. The tax cuts have reduced resources available to invest in public schools, health services for seniors and the poor, and ensure that communities across the state can thrive.
  • For the most recent fiscal year, sales tax revenue collections were $190.4 million below expected collections. Since 2013, tax changes have resulted in a steady increase in reliance on sales tax and away from income taxes. Expanding the sales tax base with newly taxed services makes projecting revenue collection difficult. Furthermore, a greater reliance on the sales tax disproportionately impacts low-income taxpayers who spend a larger share of their income on state and local taxes compared to the state’s highest income earners who have benefited the most from income tax cuts in recent years. This tax shift also could create a tax code that does not adequately fund the investments that help build thriving communities.