NC Budget and Tax Center

NC Budget and Tax Center

The House is poised to to introduce an “economic development” bill that they claim will boost the economy, but almost certainly will fail to provide real solutions to the lack of available jobs and long-term economic mobility needed by North Carolinians. While the full details of the bill have not been released, reports suggest it will include more give-aways to large corporations that will do little to change North Carolina’s economic vitality. Signals to date indicate that the bill will expand corporate incentives and give large multi-state companies another big tax break. We’ve already read this story before, and it doesn’t end well for many small businesses, struggling rural communities, or workers who have not seen a raise in years. Any new proposals should be carefully considered, but old ideas that have already proven inadequate won’t magically fix what ails the North Carolina economy.

Certainly, North Carolina’s labor market could use the support of sound public policies that could strengthen the recovery and ensure that it is delivering broad benefits to all North Carolinians not just a select few. The state’s job deficit stands at more than 400,000 jobs needed to provide employment to all who want to work, the number of unemployed people in the state remains elevated relative to pre-recession levels and poverty has not come down nor have wages grown as the economy has recovered.  There is a long way still for North Carolina to go in addressing the economic damage of the Great Recession, ensuring all communities enjoy a recovery and that all who want to work can and can support their families doing so.

At this critical moment then public policies should not be blunt instruments but instead reflect the real economic challenges facing North Carolina and address them head on. Here are some of the criteria that we will use to assess the bill when it is available: Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

The lessons of the past should help us make better choices in the future. North Carolina’s history of unemployment insurance changes provide one clear lesson:  cutting taxes for employers in good times can lead to serious harm in the long-term. A bill moving to the floor tomorrow that makes changes to the unemployment insurance system could  ensure the mistakes of the past aren’t made again by including provisions that require the Trust Fund to truly reach solvency before cutting employers taxes.

It was afterall the lack of adequate funds in the state Trust Fund before 2007 was due to tax cuts for employers that happened in good times. This series of tax cuts for employers in the 1990s—detailed here—meant the Trust Fund could not meet its obligations to pay unemployment insurance to workers who lost their job through no fault of their own during the historic job losses of the Great Recession. While the unemployment insurance Trust Fund appears ready to pay back  funds borrowed, it has been able to do so largely through drastic cuts to unemployment insurance for workers that make it more difficult for jobless workers to keep looking for work and support their families’ most basic needs.  Such cuts in a downturn and slow recovery also undermine the systems’ function in the economy as a stabilizing force in a downturn.

And the repayment of the debt is just the first step in getting the fund solvent. By every measure of solvency, North Carolina still has a long way to go to be healthy enough to weather another downturn.

Now as the Trust Fund debt is nearing repayment and employer contributions will begin to strengthen the fund ahead of future downturns, it is critical that policymakers reduce the likelihood that the state will need to borrow and that is adequate to provide unemployment insurance payments to jobless North Carolinians. Here are two provisions that policymakers should include to take a more fiscally responsible approach to the unemployment insurance Trust Fund. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

The flood of numbers associated with the state’s tax collections has created growing confusion.  However, what should not get lost in this confusion is that those numbers all converge on one truth: the tax plan passed in 2013 costs more than was originally projected and is likely to hamper our state’s ability to reinvest as the economy recovers. Yesterday’s announcement by state officials that the consensus revenue forecast expects revenue to be $271 million short of projections for the current fiscal year confirms the challenges ahead.

So here is a break down on the numbers.

The total cost of the tax plan is approaching $1 billion for the current fiscal year that runs from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015. This number measures the difference between the amount of tax revenue the state would have collected under the old tax structure and what the state is collecting under the new tax plan. The new tax plan was originally estimated to reduce tax revenue by $512.8 million for the current fiscal year, but that estimate is proving to be far lower than what we’re seeing today. BTC’s original estimates suggested that the total cost of the tax plan could reach $1 billion by the end of the current fiscal year. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

North Carolina must reform the way it raises revenue for transportation. The existing funding structures are inadequate for addressing current and future transportation needs across the state. The Governor proposed bonding against future tax revenue to meet these needs while the Senate appears poised to push through changes to the gas tax. The bottom line is that policymakers must ensure adequate dollars are available to have a safe, modern transportation infrastructure that can support workers getting to jobs and business getting goods.

The gas tax is a major revenue source for transportation projects such as repairing bridges, repaving roadways, and building highways. The failure of the current gas tax (and other transportation funding sources) to support these important public services means that backlogs for both maintenance and repairs projects persist. The state Department of Transportation estimates that North Carolina faces a $60 billion shortfall for transportation improvements through 2040, and that the state needs to come up with $32 billion just to keep the status quo.

To address a small part of the gap between transportation needs and resource availability in the long term, Senate leadership pushed a bill through the Senate Finance and Appropriations committees yesterday that would change the structure of the gas tax beginning next month. This proposal is tucked into a larger bill that makes various conformity changes to federal tax law. Read More

Commentary, NC Budget and Tax Center

In case you missed it, economist Patrick McHugh at the Budget and Tax Center, poked some new and truck-sized holes yesterday in the glowing tale of a “Carolina Comeback” that continues to be spun by state leaders. As McHugh reports, worker wages remain stuck in the mud even as corporate profits soar:

A strong recovery should mean bigger paychecks. And yet, wage growth has been decidedly lackluster in the last several years, a sure sign that North Carolina’s comeback is far from complete. Despite corporate profits being at an all-time high and productivity increasing, the recovery has not translated into improved earnings for the average worker….

The latest data from December 2014 shows that across the state average wages have remained flat year over year and in eight of the state’s fourteen metro areas average wages have fallen. Economists generally say that wage growth needs to be at least 3.5 to 4 percent to deliver returns to worker’s paychecks or at least to ensure that labor is enjoying a stable share of the benefits of a recovering economy….

While average nominal wage growth was stronger from 2009 to 2011 in North Carolina, since 2012 nominal wage growth has been negative or flat year over year. Indeed for North Carolina workers, wage growth of 4 percent year over year since 2009 would have meant that the median worker would have been earning $3.00 more each hour in 2014.

The failure to achieve strong wage growth means that many North Carolina workers continue to struggle to keep up with rising costs and basic family needs….Until earnings growth improves, the strength of the economic recovery remains in question and the share of benefits that are going to workers limited.

Read the entire brief by clicking here.