The lesson this week in North Carolina is that when you dramatically lower expectations, you are bound to exceed them. Behind these low expectations is a state setting itself up for more cuts to things like schools and a slowed economic recovery.
When North Carolina’s revenue this month came in a bit higher than the low expectations the state set due to the 2013 tax cuts, it signaled that more tax cuts for profitable corporations are on the horizon. Triggers for these corporate tax cuts were included in the tax plan passed by state lawmakers in 2013, which stipulated that the tax rate would automatically drop if total revenue collections reached certain arbitrarily-selected thresholds.
State policymakers set a low bar of performance for the corporate tax rate reductions to kick in, and based on the revised consensus revenue forecast released last week, the revenue thresholds are expected to be reached. As a result, the corporate tax rate is expected to fall to 3 percent from 5 percent by 2017, reducing annual revenue by $100 million in the first year, $350 million the second year, and then by more than $500 million annually going forward.
Prior to passage of the 2013 tax plan, North Carolina’s tax system was projected to raise around $21.4 billion and $22.3 billion for FY 2015 and FY 2016, respectively. Under the 2013 tax plan, state lawmakers set revenue thresholds of $20.2 billion and $20.975 billion for FY 2015 and FY 2016, respectively. These thresholds are BELOW what would have been collected under prior law, thus providing plenty of room to lose revenue and still meet the thresholds.
In short, state lawmakers lowered the revenue performance bar and are now celebrating that the bar was surpassed.