NC Budget and Tax Center

I recently noted the differing approaches of President Obama and Congress regarding tax changes, developing a budget and supporting the economy. In particular, I noted Congress’ push to eliminate the federal estate tax – which applies to very large inheritances by a small group of wealthy heirs.

Over the years, the amount of inheritance that is exempt from the federal estate tax has increased exponentially while efforts to raise the minimum wage in line with the growing costs of meeting basic needs have stalled.

In 2001, the federal minimum wage was $5.15 an hour and remained at that level until 2008 when it was increased to $5.85 an hour and then to $7.25 in 2010, where it remains today. On this issue, North Carolina has not differed from federal law, with a state minimum wage of $7.25 as well.

By contrast, in 2001, the amount of estate inheritance that could be exempt from the federal estate tax was $625,000. By 2008, this exemption amount increased to $2 million and for 2015 the exemption amount is $5.43 million. In 2013, North Carolina state lawmakers completely eliminated the state’s estate tax (only 23 North Carolina taxpayers paid an estate tax for the 2012 tax year). In the same year state lawmakers eliminated the state Earned Income Tax Credit, which helped more than 900,000 low- and moderate-income taxpayers who earn low wages keep more of what they earn to offset an already regressive state tax system. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

Members of the Kansas Center for Economic Growth are visiting North Carolina this week to share what has happened in Kansas following massive tax cuts signed into law by Governor Brownback back in 2012. Kansas has become a case study of the grave consequences resulting from a dogged pursuit of tax cuts as an economic growth strategy. The results are not that good.

In 2012, Kansas enacted tax cuts that were considered among the largest ever enacted by any state. Tax cut proponents in other states – including North Carolina state lawmakers – held Kansas up as a model to be replicated. Accordingly, North Carolina state lawmakers followed Kansas’ path and passed huge income tax cuts in 2013 that largely benefited the wealthy and profitable corporations and significantly reduced available revenue for public investments.

For Kansas, the reality in the wake of the costly tax cuts has been nothing to write home about. Here are some low-lights of Kansas’ experience, accordingly to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

  • Deep income tax cuts caused large revenue losses. Kansas’ tax cuts last year cost the state more than 10 percent of the revenue it uses to fund schools, health care, and other public services, a hit comparable to a mid-sized recession. The revenue loss is expected to rise to 16 percent in five years if the tax cuts are not reversed.
  • The tax cuts delivered lopsided benefits to the wealthy. Kansas’ tax cuts didn’t benefit everyone. Most of the benefits went to high-income households and taxes were even raised for low-income families to offset a portion of the revenue loss.
  • Kansas’ tax cuts haven’t boosted its economy. Since the tax cuts took effect at the beginning of 2013, Kansas has added jobs at a pace modestly slower than the country as a whole. Furthermore, the earnings and incomes of Kansans have performed slightly worse than the U.S. as a whole as well while the number of registered business grew more slowly in 2013 than in 2012.

Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

The ongoing, raging debate at the federal level regarding tax changes highlights the contrast between the proposals being put forward by President Obama and Congress for developing a budget and supporting the economy. The President would like to provide tax cuts to middle-income taxpayers – by enhancing the Child Care Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, for example. Congress, by contrast, would like to repeal the federal estate tax, for example, which would benefit the wealthy.

The estate tax is essentially a tax on very large inheritances by a small group of wealthy heirs. An estate must have a value of $5.4 million (after related debt is accounted for) before the estate tax applies. Only the estates of the wealthiest 0.2 percent of Americans – roughly 2 out of every 1,000 people who die – owe any estate tax.

A repeal of the estate tax amounts to a massive windfall for those heirs. Proponents often claim that the estate tax hurts small farmers and businesses by forcing people to sell their family farm or business. In North Carolina we have heard this claim despite no evidence presented to support the claim. Still, proponents have continued to make the claim over the years, as Dean Baker at the Center for Economic and Policy Research notes. In the early 2000s, the American Farm Bureau Federation, a leading advocate for repealing the estate tax, could not cite a single example of a farm lost because of estate taxes.

North Carolina state lawmakers latched onto this false claim back in 2013 to repeal the state’s estate tax. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

State lawmakers once again turned their back on hardworking North Carolinians who struggle to support themselves and their families with low wages.

Yesterday, just before the House Finance Committee was scheduled to debate an economic development bill, House Bill 89, the sponsor stripped out a provision that would have reinstated the state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a tax break that helps thousands of North Carolinians who work at low-wage jobs. North Carolina’s EITC expired at the end of 2013 when state lawmakers failed to extend it, and this economic development bill would have been the perfect opportunity to bring it back.

The EITC is widely recognized as one of the most effective anti-poverty tools nationwide, especially for children. Nearly 907,000 North Carolinians claimed the state EITC for tax year 2012, benefiting nearly 1.2 million children and providing a $108 million economic boost to local communities across the state.

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The bill sponsor, Rep. Moore, informed House Finance Committee members that the state EITC provision was excluded from the revised bill in order to increase the chances of the bill gaining bipartisan support among state lawmakers. Read More

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State lawmakers constantly claim that they are looking out for average North Carolinians. However, actions speak louder than words and proposed tax changes that the state Senate aims to enact is a good example. The tax changes would further shift the tax responsibility to low- and middle-income taxpayers and away from the wealthy and profitable corporations.

As part of the proposed tax changes, the Senate would target cash-strapped homeowners by requiring them to pay state income tax on mortgage debt forgiven by lenders, even though no actual cash is provided to the homeowners. Another proposed tax provision would no longer allow students and families to deduct expenses for tuition and related expenses such as course textbooks, supplies, and equipment.

These two proposed tax changes were excluded from the House version of the bill; however, the Senate has not budged and has kept these tax changes in its package of proposed tax law changes. Consequently, while many North Carolinians continue to await their Carolina Comeback amid an uneven recovery and a steady increase in the cost of a college education, state policymakers are essentially saying “tough luck”.

In contrast, the same Senate bill includes a tax break for businesses that fall on bad luck. The proposed tax change would allow businesses that experience economic losses (e.g. they don’t make a profit), potentially as far back as 30 years, to carry forward those losses to reduce profits generated in the years ahead. Rather than ensuring that profitable corporations pay their fair share, this tax change does the opposite.

The disturbing reality is that North Carolina’s tax system favors the wealthy and profitable corporations at the expense of average North Carolinians. Whereas distressed North Carolina homeowners who were preyed upon by unethical lenders are punished as a result of receiving much-needed consumer relief, profitable corporations are provided tax breaks in the event they fall on hard times.

Such tax changes contribute to the making of North Carolina’s upside-down tax system, which work to shift the tax responsibility to low- and middle-income taxpayers and away from the wealthy and profitable corporations.