NC Budget and Tax Center

NC Budget and Tax Center

The budget passed by state lawmakers last week expanded the sales tax base to include additional services that are not currently taxed. Accordingly, the repair or upkeep of a vehicle, the repair of a broken washer or dryer, or the maintenance of an air conditioning unit will now be subject to the sales tax.

It appears that the weekend gave policymakers time for some second thoughts about their plan, however. This week, state lawmakers are now aiming to pass a bill that will roll back one particular aspect of the sales tax base expansion included in the budget.

House Bill 117 (HB 117) includes a provision that would exempt repair, maintenance, and installation services on tangible property and motor vehicles covered under manufacturer or dealer warranties from the sales tax. Accordingly, under HB 117, if your vehicle or tangible property is covered under a warranty then you don’t pay a sales tax on repair and upkeep services. To the contrary, if your vehicle or other tangible property is not covered under a manufacturer or dealer warranty then you will pay more in sales taxes.

This tax change means that two people can own similar tangible property, but one could potentially end up paying more in sales taxes simply because they don’t have a manufacturer or dealer warranty. This is troubling because it is likely to particularly harm low-income taxpayers who already pay a larger share of their income in taxes compared to the well-off. Low-income taxpayers who have to take their non-warranted vehicle to an auto shop for an unexpected repair will pay more in sales taxes, for example. Meanwhile, those who are able to afford costly warranties will escape having to pay more in sales taxes.

The backtracking on services included in the sales tax base expansion contradicts state lawmakers’ supposed commitment to base broadening on principle. Broadening the sales tax base has been sold as a way to make the state’s tax code more effective and ensure that it reflects a more service-oriented economy. That appears to be the case only if powerful lobbyists don’t object. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

The August labor market data released this morning show North Carolina is failing to hit key markers of a strong economic recovery.

The unemployment rate remained steady at 5.9 percent in August, 0.1 percentage points below where the state unemployment rate was one year ago. The state experienced a slower decline than the nation, with a 0.4 percentage point drop.

Importantly, the unemployment rate does not capture the people remaining outside of the labor market due to a lack of employment opportunities. The state’s unemployment rate would be higher than 10 percent if one considers these missing workers.

A deeper assessment of the labor market trends beyond the unemployment rate in the August data include: Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

A provision in the budget will, if enacted, will change the way sales tax is distributed. The budget creates a new pot of $84.8 million to be distributed to county and municipal governments for economic development, public education, and community college purposes.

Similar Senate proposals earlier this session met a frosty reception in the House and a promise from Governor McCrory to veto any budget that included such a move. On the surface, what’s in the budget looks very different from earlier proposals, and there are important distinctions, but the cumulative impact is actually quite similar to what we have already seen.

Before getting into the details on how the new system would work, a few top-level points should be underscored:

  • It is good to discuss how we can help struggling local communities to meet the economic and educational challenges that they face: This proposal is rooted in a very real fact. Many local communities, particularly in rural North Carolina, are strapped. Regardless of what you think about the proposals floated this session, it is good to see the legislative leaders acknowledging that many local communities don’t have the resources to build a strong economy or provide a sound education.
  • This proposal won’t fix the economic problems in rural North Carolina: None of the proposals to date would generate enough revenue to meet the economic and educational challenges that many communities face. In fact, the legislature has contributed to the problem in recent years by limiting how local governments can raise funds and by cutting back on what the state passes along to the local level. The budget proposal would set aside almost $85 million for suburban and rural counties, which isn’t chump change, but still not enough to make up for years of under-investment.

The actual budget mechanism for shifting funds around is a bit complicated, and we won’t know the real effect for some time, but the cumulative impact is likely to be similar to proposals we’ve seen already: Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

Economic hardship persisted at high levels in the nation and North Carolina in 2014, according to new figures released today from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS). The 2014 national poverty rate remained flat at 14.8 percent and still well-above pre-recession levels five years into the official economic recovery. There were 46.7 million Americans living below the official federal poverty line, which was $11,670 for an individual and $23,850 for a family of four in 2014.

In the Washington Post today, Jared Bernstein—a well-respected national economist—explained that poverty is stuck high despite economic growth because the gains of economic growth are accruing mainly to top earners:

“Clearly, the improving economy and falling unemployment have yet to adequately lift the living standards of middle- and low-incomes. The census data show that almost 3 million more people were working year-round in 2014 than in 2013, yet real median earnings were unchanged for both men and women. Poverty remains higher and median incomes lower than before the recession, and this pattern — taking longer in the upturn to make up the losses from the downturn — seems dangerously embedded in the economy.

What explains this economic disconnect between growth, income and prosperity? While longer-term trends — globalization, technology, the absence of full employment, low bargaining power for many workers — have been in play for decades now, in recent years, fiscal policy has been insufficiently supportive of growth, and, in our age of increased income inequality, it takes longer for expansions to reach middle and low-income households.”

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NC Budget and Tax Center

Many pundits and outlets are describing the joint budget deal as a “compromise” between the inadequate House and Senate budgets. But North Carolinians from Murphy to Manteo know that we cannot compromise our future.

By pursuing deeper tax cuts, policymakers have failed to strengthen public education, public health, and safety, and the other building blocks of a strong economy.

The new tax plan will lose $383.6 million over a two-year period, with the annual loss ballooning to $692.9 million by the fifth year. Revenue losses will grow by another $458 million over the next two years when accounting for corporate tax breaks that are already scheduled to go into effect. All of these revenue losses will add to the damage from the 2013 tax cuts, which result in $1 billion in lost revenue each year when fully implemented.

That’s why it’s no surprise that there are a lot of investments in vital public services that are needed but missing from the new budget deal, like public education, public health and safety, and rural economic development. There has been plenty of coverage of what is in the budget over the last day and a half but there has been little coverage of what’s not in the budget.

Below is a short list of investments that are missing in action but still greatly needed to build a stronger, more inclusive economy for us all. Read More