NC Budget and Tax Center

Follow the money: Joint budget deal includes major tax changes that reduce ability to rebuild broadly shared opportunity

Yesterday, legislative leadership unveiled a joint budget deal that puts the train on the wrong tracks by pursuing deeper tax cuts at the expense of strengthening public education, public health and safety, and the other building blocks of a strong economy. The deal includes another costly round of income tax cuts, additional tax breaks for selected industries, and an expansion in the sales tax base to include installation, repair, and maintenance services. The tax plan will lose $383.6 million over a two-year period, with the annual loss ballooning to $692.9 million in by the fifth year.

The state Senate is scheduled to give preliminary approval of the 500-plus page deal at 2pm today and final approval tomorrow, despite its 11:30pm release last evening. The House is expected to vote on the deal as early as Thursday, with it headed to the Governor’s desk after a final vote. The stop-gap spending measure that is currently in place expires Friday at midnight and would need to be extended for a fourth time if a final budget deal is not in place by then.

While most of the public budget debate this week will be on the spending side, examining how lawmakers pay for the budget deal is just as important. This is especially true due to this new round of costly tax cuts that come on top of the $1 billion annual tax cuts approved two years ago. Both tax plans drain resources that otherwise could have been used to build opportunity and replace the worst cuts enacted since the economic downturn. Read more

NC Budget and Tax Center

Floyd experience teaches us to keep rainy day funds accessible

As we edge closer to the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Floyd, it is important to review the vital role that state emergency funds play when disaster strikes. Lawmakers in North Carolina tapped into state “rainy day funds” to help cope with the storm’s aftermath: the cost of providing assistance to families in need and rebuilding destroyed communities. Unfortunately, the North Carolina Senate is seeking to weaken access to our rainy day fund, even in times of true emergency.

Floyd, which hit about a week and a half after Tropical Storm Dennis, caused some Tar Heel families to lose loved ones, jobs, and all of their possessions in drowned cities. The storm caused $6 billion in damage and destroyed entire communities, including homes, farms, and businesses. Response efforts also put stress on the state budget, causing mid-year budget freezes and cuts totaling $504 million.

There is no doubt that the state’s response would have been far weaker in the absence of state and federal emergency funds. Then-Governor Hunt called a special session and North Carolina lawmakers approved nearly $286 million to be pulled out of the rainy day fund, which supplemented $838 million in federal emergency funds to support the response efforts. Read more

NC Budget and Tax Center

Legislators approve third extension of temporary budget as negotiations continue

Legislators approved a third budget extension today as the House and Senate leadership continue efforts to iron out a final budget deal. The existing temporary budget, known officially as a Continuing Resolution, is set to expire on Monday. If signed by the Governor, the newest extension will keep public programs and services operating through September 18th, which is 79 days after the original budget deadline of July 1st.

The third budget extension will keep state government operating exactly as the second stop-gap measure approved earlier this month. I outlined those details in a previous blog post.

Leadership in the House and Senate chambers already agreed to a topline spending target of $21.735 billion for the 2016 fiscal year that runs through June 30, 2016. That means state investments as a part of the economy would remain below the 45—year average, impeding the ability to restore previous cuts and make progress in a significant way. Read more

NC Budget and Tax Center

State lawmakers extend budget deadline for second time

Last week state lawmakers extended the 2015-17 fiscal year budget negotiation deadline from August 14th to August 31st, which is 61 days after the original budget deadline of July 1st. House and Senate leadership need additional time to work on the final budget deal because they have not been able to iron out the stark differences in their budget and tax priorities. If lawmakers were to approve a budget at the end of August, the 2015-17 budget would be the latest-approved two-year budget since 1998 and second-latest one going back to 1961.

More important than when the final agreement is reached is whether the final budget most closely reflects the priorities of North Carolinians for quality educational experiences, safe and vibrant communities, and healthy environments.

In the meantime, the new stop-gap measure—known officially as a Continuing Resolution—keeps state programs and services operating largely along the same lines as the first stop-gap measure approved at the end of June. Similar to the first temporary measure, the new measure funds current programs and services at existing levels, with four major exceptions that are listed below. Read more

NC Budget and Tax Center

Weak economy and tax cuts are preventing state revenues from keeping up with population-plus-inflation growth, fiscal staff says

Revenues that fuel the state budget are growing so slowly that they are not even keeping pace with population-plus-inflation growth, according to Barry Boardman who is the chief economist for the state legislature’s non-partisan Fiscal Research Division. Weak economic growth and tax cuts are keeping state revenues low, Boardman explained during a presentation that he gave to lawmakers earlier this week.

More tax cuts are looming too—a move that will sustain the damaging trend of slow revenue growth that makes it harder to meet basic needs and build a stronger economy. The House and Senate leadership put forward budgets that included additional tax cuts totaling approximately $652 million and $950 million, respectively, over the next two years.

The presentation shows that during the immediate years before the Great Recession, state revenues were growing faster than the inflation-plus-population benchmark. At that time, the state tax code was better suited and comprised of a progressive income tax based on ability to pay. The trend reversed after the 2008 fiscal year, with the population-plus-inflation growth rate outpacing revenue growth. The economic downturn caused revenues to plummet. And before revenues were able to fully recover back to pre-recession levels, lawmakers cut taxes deeply as part of the 2013 tax plan.

Revenues are not expected to outpace population-plus-inflation growth in either of the next two years; they are expected to remain below the long-run historical average. Read more