NC Budget and Tax Center

Hypotheticals continue to trump reality for some state lawmakers

Today the General Assembly’s Revenue Laws Committee held its first meeting for 2016. The meeting’s agenda included presentations to state lawmakers on the committee from state officials regarding tax changes passed last year as well as proposed tax changes that state leaders would like to pass this year. Also included on the agenda was a presentation from a representative of the Tax Foundation (TF), tax policy research organization that favors tax cuts for profitable corporations and the wealthy, and recently released analysis that fails to acknowledge the cost of such an approach to North Carolina’s ability to fund public schools, infrastructure like roads and water/sewer, state parks or public health initiatives.

Here are three takeaways from today’s meeting.

  • Despite the TF spokesman informing that his organization’s assessment of the impact of tax reform in North Carolina uses hypothetical (a.k.a. made up) taxpayer scenarios, some lawmakers still pointed to these scenarios during the meeting to support their claim that the tax changes benefit all North Carolinians. This is not true. The TF spokesman even acknowledged during his presentation that all NC taxpayers do not come out ahead under tax changes since 2013.

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NC Budget and Tax Center

Tax Foundation ranking not a true indicator of North Carolina’s health

You may have heard that North Carolina’s business climate is nearing top-10 status according a new ranking by the Tax Foundation, a tax policy research organization that favors tax cuts. If that sounds strange to you, it should.  Many of the inputs that businesses look to in order to succeed have failed to rebound after the recession because of neglect from state policymakers.

The 2016 State Business Tax Climate Index has many flaws that have been highlighted by critics over the years. It is clear, however, that one way to zip up the ranking is to simply cut taxes, often in ways that primarily benefit large multi-state corporations. And this result in forgoing the kinds of investments needed to improve the economic climate that allows all businesses and all North Carolinians to prosper.

As I’ve noted in a prior post, proclaiming that North Carolina’s business 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 the state.

Here are five reasons that the Tax Foundation rankings are the wrong foundation for making tax policy in North Carolina.

  1. Ranking focuses on cherry-picked tax policies that the Tax Foundation doesn’t like, rather than on the range of factors that genuinely drive business investment decisions.

The Tax Foundation index simply chooses elements of tax policy it likes best – e.g. a flat income tax rather than a progressive income tax structure – without solid empirical evidence as to the impact of favored tax policies on states’ economic growth. A flat tax income tax, for example, which the Tax Foundation favors, doesn’t take a taxpayer’s ability to pay into account and largely benefits the well-off. A progressive income tax structure, by contrast, considers ability to pay but is not favored in the ranking. Furthermore, states with relatively lower tax rates are favored without considering the impact of lower tax rates on their ability to raise adequate revenue for public services. The Tax Foundation mixes these selected tax policies together and labels the result a state’s “business climate.”

This sole focus on a state’s tax structure leads to an index that mistakenly assumes taxes are the most important factor in shaping states’ business climates and tells us nothing about a state’s economic health – like whether schools are good, higher education is affordable, roads and rails are in good shape, or the workforce has the skills needed for 21st century business. Read more

NC Budget and Tax Center

Tax Foundation gets it wrong with its assessment of recent tax changes in NC

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

Childless jobless workers will face additional barriers to put food on the table

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

Claim justifying more tax cuts not supported by facts

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