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NC Budget and Tax Center

We still don’t know exactly what kind of tax and budget deal will emerge from the legislature when it wraps up business in the coming weeks, but it will likely include another round of tax cuts for large multi-state corporations. We’ve also seen an alarming push to bake further tax reductions and spending limits into the state constitution, called TABOR, which would constitutionally mandate policy that we’ve never even tested through regular legislation, and which has been a proven failure in Colorado. Against this backdrop, remember that there is no evidence that tax cuts can solve the economic challenges that we face.

Tax cuts have not improved North Carolina wages. Now that we have recovered from the worst of the Great Recession, many economists see a lack of wage growth our most pressing economic challenge. Wages in North Carolina are even more stagnate than for the US as a whole, a problem that has not been solved by tax cuts over the last few years. The average hourly wage in North Carolina is now roughly $3 less than the national average, a gap that has actually widened since the first major round of recent tax cuts passed in 2013. Tax cuts have not solved our wage problem, and there’s no reason to expect that change.

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NC Budget and Tax Center

State lawmakers would like to amend North Carolina’s state constitution in ways that would undermine our ability to adequately meet the needs of a growing and changing state and impede our ability to build today for a strong economy for the future. These amendments would reduce annual state revenue by nearly $2 billion if implemented in 2015, meaning state funding cuts to important public investments that drive the state forward – our public schools, affordable higher education, safe and healthy communities, and modern infrastructure.

Colorado, which enacted TABOR in 1992, serves as a cautionary tale regarding the perils of taking such a path. The state suspended the law for five years in 2005 in response to a sharp decline in public services. As a result of TABOR, Colorado went from the middle of the pack to the bottom among states in regards to state support for public education and initiatives that serve children. Regarding Colorado, an updated 2015 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities highlights:

  • Colorado fell from 35th to 49th in the nation in K-12 spending as a percentage of personal income.
  • College and university funding as a share of personal income declined from 35th in the nation to 48th.
  • Colorado fell to near the bottom of national rankings in providing children with full, on-time vaccinations.
  • The share of low-income children in the state who lacked health insurance doubled, making Colorado the worst in the nation by this measure

North Carolina has ALREADY experienced erosion in state support for public schools, higher education and early childhood programs in recent years and currently ranks near the bottom among states in many areas. The implementation of these constitutional amendments would all but guarantee a last place finish in every race, every year.

  • North Carolina already ranks 43rd in average pay for our teachers.
  • North Carolina had the largest decline among states in average teacher salaries from 2003-04 to 2013-14.
  • North Carolina ranks 41st in change in state spending per student at 4-yr public universities since 2008

TABOR would make sure that we are unable to boost investments in early childhood initiatives, public schools, and public colleges and universities at a time when doing so is important to North Carolina becoming a more competitive and attractive state.

Contrary to the saying that if you’re at the bottom the only way to go is up, if TABOR comes to North Carolina, the only fate for the Tar Heel State is a permanent place at the bottom in regards to our commitment to public education.

Commentary

The latest from analysts at the N.C. Justice Center:

July Jobs Figures Show NC Falling Behind the Nation

RALEIGH (August 21, 2015) — The July labor market data released this morning show North Carolina continues to lag behind the nation in a few vital ways.
Wages in North Carolina are not growing as fast as the nation, and are actually down slightly compared to a year ago. Furthermore, the unemployment rate in North Carolina has gone up over the last six months while unemployment nationwide has fallen.

“North Carolina’s economy remains far from its position prior to the recession,” said Patrick McHugh, economic analyst with the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. “This reality is reflected in wage levels and a labor force participation rate that have yet to reach their pre-recession levels.”
Highlights of the July data include:

• Growing wage gap between North Carolina workers and the national average: For North Carolina, the average weekly paycheck came in at $763.49 in June. When factoring in inflation, the real buying power of wages in North Carolina remains well below pre-recession levels. Wages nationwide have grown faster than inflation over the last year. All told, this means that the average weekly North Carolina paycheck is now $101 less than the national average.
• Still more North Carolinians out of work than before the Great Recession: Even though the ranks of the unemployed have declined over the past year, there are still nearly 280,000 North Carolinians looking for work, approximately 64,000 more than before the Great Recession.
• Percent of North Carolinians employed still near historic lows: July numbers showed 57.6 percent of North Carolinians were employed. This leaves North Carolina well below the level of employment that was commonplace before the Great Recession. In the mid-2000s, employment levels reached a peak of about 63 percent. The percent of North Carolinians with a job remains below the national average, as it has been since the Great Recession.
• Labor force participation grows, but still below pre-recession norms: The size of the labor force, a measure of people who are employed or are looking for work, grew by just under 3 percent over the year. While this is a good sign that some workers are returning to the labor force, the share of North Carolinians who are employed or looking for work is still lower than before the Great Recession.
• US making much more progress in reducing unemployment than North Carolina: Even while the state continues to add jobs, growth is not enough to push unemployment below the 5 percent threshold that most economists see as the top-end of a healthy labor market. While the national unemployment rate has come down over the last six months, the ranks of the unemployed have grown here in North Carolina.

For more context on the economic choices facing North Carolina, check out a recent report on building an innovation economy for all and the Budget & Tax Center’s weekly Prosperity Watch platform.

NC Budget and Tax Center

The North Carolina House just passed HB 943, which would put a $2.86 billion bond referendum before the voters this fall. This move is based on a growing consensus that investing in our schools, roads, state facilities, parks, and local infrastructure is an economic must.

Issuing new debt should be pared with a few pragmatic fiscal steps. First, we should not cut taxes again, which would undermine the flexibility we will need to repay the debt. Second, we should use regular appropriations to pay for most repairs, and keep the bond finances for transformative projects that move North Carolina’s economy forward.

If we are going to issue more debt, we cannot afford another round of tax cuts. If we borrow to improve the state’s infrastructure, the state will need strong future revenue growth to repay borrowers; more tax cuts or limits on revenue growth are bad fiscal policy. Moreover, reducing taxes even further could jeopardize North Carolina’s AAA rating, and force us to pay higher interest rates. The bond rating agencies are very sensitive to states’ long-term fiscal stability and states with lower credit scores have to pay higher interest rates. Other states that have cut taxes even more dramatically than North Carolina (e.g. Kansas) have been downgraded by the credit rating agencies, not an example that we should follow if we are about to purchase new debt.

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Commentary

As the ongoing budget stalemate continues in the General Assembly, the Senate offered up this morning its latest version of the “NC Competes” bill, the mis-named economic development package that will likely do very little to make North Carolina genuinely competitive for private investment and job creation in the global economy. Like previous renditions of the package, today’s proposal just doubles down on tax cuts and corporate subsidy programs that have proven time and again to be ineffective at meaningfully growing our state’s economy. But it largely goes from bad to worse in terms of the state’s discretionary incentive programs.

In general, economic development incentives are not the most effective tool to promote meaningful job creation or widely shared economic prosperity. They tend to influence only a small number of firm location decisions and frequently end up going to the urban, wealthier areas that need incentive dollars the least in order to attract investment. And in North Carolina, the Job Development Investment Grant program—the state’s flagship incentive program—has failed to live up to its promises of job creation and investment in 60 percent of its projects.

The truth is that incentives just don’t play a major role in making our state competitive for business investment. While JDIG may play a role in luring a small number of businesses to the state, the program only accounts for a vanishingly small amount of the total number of businesses, jobs, and investment that come to North Carolina. Since the end of the recession, 95% of the jobs created, 92% of the growth in the number of businesses in the state, and 99% of the state’s GDP growth have occurred *without* investment from JDIG.

So it’s unfortunate that the Senate doubles down on this ineffective approach. Here are few of the most problematic provisions:

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