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New from our colleagues at the Budget and Tax Center:

Much of North Carolina has still not recovered from the Great Recession, according to the latest employment data for May.

Roughly two-thirds of North Carolina’s counties have fewer people working today than before the recession, and almost a quarter of the counties in North Carolina saw employment decline since May of 2014, a distressing sign given that it comes amidst generally strong national growth.

“The picture in many small towns and rural communities is not good,” said Patrick McHugh, Economic Analyst for the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. “Even in some cities that are largely seen as doing better, wages have not kept up with inflation over the last seven years.”

Notable data from the labor market release include:

  • 88 of North Carolina’s 100 counties have more people looking for work today than before the Great Recession.
  • 64 of North Carolina’s 100 counties have not gotten back to pre-recession levels of employment.
  • 14 of North Carolina’s 15 metropolitan areas still have more people looking for work than before the recession.
  • Adjusting for inflation, only metropolitan areas (Charlotte, Durham-Chapel Hill, Greenville, New Bern, and Wilmington) have seen better than 4 percent growth in wages over the last year.
  • Wages have not kept up with inflation in eight of North Carolina’s 15 metropolitan areas.

“The current period of economic growth is not creating enough jobs in many communities and most workers are not seeing their paychecks grow,” McHugh said. “We’re doing better than a few years ago, but this economy still isn’t working for a lot of working North Carolina.”

The Budget and Tax Center provides summaries of each county’s current labor market data, and how each county has fared since the start of the recession.

NC Budget and Tax Center

With lawmakers set to hammer out a final state budget, North Carolinians are hearing a lot of misleading claims about the inability to afford important investments in the state’s economic future. Unmentioned is that the state’s constrained finances – at a time when the economy is improving – stem from the decision to sharply cut taxes over the past three years instead of building a strong foundation for lasting growth.

So when policymakers say that making investments in one area of the budget limit the ability to invest in other areas, they are right in lamenting limited resources. But they are offering false choices because they leave out the fact that the limits on resources available to help North Carolinians build a secure future come from House and Senate leadership prioritizing tax cuts over investments that drive the economy forward. And these constraints are likely to continue far into the future because the proposed House and Senate budgets include tax cuts that cost anywhere from $650 million to $1 billion over the next two years, depending on which version of the budget the two houses eventually agree to enact.

By locking themselves into these false choices legislators fail to acknowledge that halting further tax cuts would help ensure that schools have the resources they need and that important supports are available to promote healthy and safe communities.

Let’s sort out some of these false choices and shed light on how different it could be if the state had taken the common-sense path of avoiding such damaging tax cuts.

  • Classroom Teachers vs. Teachers Assistants. Today, our schools have nearly 4,800 fewer classroom teacher positions and more than 7,000 fewer state-funded teachers’ assistants than in 2009, which is especially bad considering there are 43,000 more students in our schools. The Senate budget drastically reduces funding for teachers’ assistants and provides some additional funding for classroom teachers. But neither the House nor Senate budget would restore the number of teachers and assistants to the 2009 level. Without tax cuts, North Carolina could invest in teachers and teachers’ assistants, providing the next generation a better shot at getting the skills to compete in a global economy.

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NC Budget and Tax Center

Immigrants are increasingly important to North Carolina’s long-term economic vitality. The smokescreen of rhetoric surrounding immigration can obscure facts on the ground, but that makes it all the more important to take a sober look at the actual evidence. As documented in a recent Budget & Tax Center report, immigrants bring needed skills and expertise, swell the ranks of Main Street entrepreneurs, help to reverse population decline in many rural parts of the state, and ultimately improve our communities.

Table 2-no number-PW

Comparing North Carolina counties with sizable immigrant populations to counties that have relatively new residents who were born outside of the United States provides perhaps the most compelling evidence that immigrants help communities to prosper. As shown in the table to the left, counties made up of more than 6% immigrants fare significantly better than counties where the immigrant population is less than 3%.

By allowing hard fact to scrub the political air, it is clear that immigrants help communities across North Carolina to prosper. On average, communities with substantial immigrant populations have lower unemployment rates and levels of poverty, and higher wages than communities with few immigrants. This trend also holds when you look at rural counties, evidence that immigrants help communities large and small.

This kind of evidence has more and more communities across the country extending a helping hand to immigrants. Cities like St. Louis, Detroit, and Charlotte, just to name a few, recognize that immigrants will play a huge role in their economic prospects going forward. Immigrants have always been part of America’s economic foundation. Our future economic vitality will depend on how well we build upon that legacy.

Legislative Update

House Bill 328, sponsored by Representative Harry Warren (Republican, Rowan County) was recommended by the House Finance Committee earlier this week on a 22-11 vote. The bill would allow undocumented immigrants who pass a criminal background check to receive a temporary driver’s license in North Carolina. The bill received bi-partisan support, but has an uncertain future. It is not clear when, or if, the bill will be debated by the full House. Governor McCrory has said that he opposes the bill and it is unclear how it would be received in the Senate. Still, the Finance vote is the second favorable vote in a House committee and the bill has support from a variety of constituencies.

For more on the Finance Committee vote, visit

 

NC Budget and Tax Center

The state Senate unveiled a proposal yesterday that would take the modest revenue gains that our state is experiencing and give them away in the form of tax cuts rather than reinvest them in the building blocks of community well-being. That would be a mistake. Lawmakers already deeply cut revenue collections in 2013 and this plan would double down on those cuts and flawed strategy.

The proposal would hand out more costly tax cuts to large, profitable corporations, lower the personal income tax for the third time, and slightly expand the sales tax to more services—all at the expense of everyday North Carolinians. It will neither enable the state to replace the worst cuts enacted in the aftermath of the recession nor restore the state’s economy to a sound footing, as my colleague explained yesterday.

The cost of the Senate leadership’s proposal grows to nearly $1.1 billion per year once the plan is fully phased in.* That cost is roughly the amount of money that the state invests in the entire Community College system, which serves all 100 counties and is tasked with preparing today and tomorrow’s workforce. Over the next biennium alone, revenue losses would total $951 million. That means a lost opportunity to catch up, rebuild, and keep up with the needs of children, families, and communities across the state.

All North Carolinians will the pay price. The graphic below illustrates the potential reach of those revenues and highlights how the revenue could instead be reinvested in things that benefit us all. Read More

Falling Behind in NC, NC Budget and Tax Center, Raising the Bar 2015

A tax plan state Senate leaders presented this week would promote neither shared economic opportunity nor prosperity across North Carolina. Far from it.

The proposal would cost more than $1 billion in annual revenue loss as the tax plan continues down the path of handing out more costly tax cuts to large, profitable corporations at the expense of everyday North Carolinians. This approach won’t restore the state’s economy to a sound footing.

The proposed tax plan does nothing about persistent stagnant wages, an uneven economic recovery in which all gains are going to the wealthiest North Carolinians, and the lack of economic and job growth in many parts of the state. Senate leaders would pay for only a portion of the income tax cuts by having North Carolinians pay more in sales taxes, which hit people making relatively low incomes the hardest. And the state would continue to walk away from its responsibility to make much-needed investments in our public schools, public colleges and universities, repair the state’s eroding infrastructure, and other building blocks of a strong economy.

Key aspects of the Senate tax plan stand out as strong reasons why its adoption would fail to promote broad prosperity.

  • The proposal’s reduction of the personal income tax rate to 5.5 percent from 5.75 percent has no benefits to the state’s economy or its competitiveness. At the cost of much-needed public revenue, the tax rate cut won’t drive significant job creation, motivate businesses or people to locate in North Carolina or encourage local investment. Not only do income tax rates affect these factors negligibly, if at all, North Carolina’s personal income tax rate is already in line with the region’s, falling in the middle among southeast states.
  • While putting a limit on how much in itemized deductions a taxpayer can claim is good policy, using the added revenue this produces to reduce tax rates isn’t. Because this proposal would place all itemized deductions—mortgage interest, charitable contributions, medical expenses, etc.—under the cap, it creates greater equity in the treatment of taxpayers. Capping itemized deductions reduces revenue loss from these deductions and helps address inequities in the tax code, as wealthier taxpayers typically benefit more from deductions.
  • Increasing the standard deduction is a wasteful way to address the problem of too many North Carolinians struggling to make ends meet because it deprives the state of much-needed public resources that could boost public investments that promote economic growth. A better way to help hard-working taxpayers keep more of what they earn is to adopt a strong refundable state EITC to help offset not only income taxes, but sales and property taxes that fall hardest on those with lower incomes.

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