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NC Budget and Tax Center

A new paper by UC Berkeley economist Danny Yagan provides further evidence that tax breaks that largely benefit the wealthy and profitable corporations are not a remedy for boosting the economy. In 2003, President George W. Bush passed one of the largest cuts ever to a federal capital tax rate – reducing the top tax rate on dividends to 15 percent from 38.6 percent. Using federal IRS data on corporate tax returns, Yagan compared corporations that benefited from this tax cut (C-corporations) to firms that didn’t benefit from the tax cut (S-corporations).

Corporations that got a massive dividend tax cut didn’t make any different choices about things that boost the real economy, the new paper highlights. The massive reduction to the federal dividend tax rate resulted in no meaningful change in corporate investment, net investment, or employee compensation for corporations. What did change following the huge dividend tax cut was an increase in payout to corporate shareholders. Simply put, the tax cut benefited corporate shareholders but not the overall economy.

Some lawmakers and outside groups in North Carolina are pushing to eliminate capital gains from state taxes. Governor McCrory recently announced his desire to eliminate the state’s capital gains tax for what he deems “innovation-related companies”. Either proposal to cut capital gains taxes would overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy at the expense of everyone else in the state, a recently released BTC report highlights. Proponents often claim that eliminating or reducing the capital gains tax rate will increase investment and help boost the economy. However, no apparent cause-and-effect relationship exists between changes in the top capital gains tax rate and savings, investment, or productivity growth. Instead, various analyses highlight how cutting capital gains tax rates have concentrated income at the very top. There is simply no reason to expect this reality to somehow be any different in North Carolina.

Bigger tax breaks for the rich while the state is cutting support for schools and other essential job-creation tools is not a path that promotes economic opportunity and prosperity for all North Carolinians. This new paper serves as yet more evidence that state lawmakers should reject calls to eliminate or cut capital gains taxes and instead work to make sure the wealthiest North Carolinians and profitable corporations pay their fair share.

NC Budget and Tax Center

A new report released today by the Budget & Tax Center highlights how eliminating North Carolina’s taxes on capital gains would largely benefit those who need it least while making things worse for families struggling to make ends meet.

Some lawmakers and outside groups in North Carolina are pushing a plan that would benefit the wealthy at the expense of everyone else by ending state taxation of profits from selling artwork, vacation homes and other high-end items owned by relatively few North Carolinians. The proposal is part of a larger push to radically alter North Carolina’s tax structure to the detriment of the long-term well-being of the state and its residents.

Cap gains allocation

Key findings from the report include:

  • Eliminating capital gains from state income tax would reduce annual state revenue by $520 million, meaning even less revenue for public investments that help drive the state’s economy forward. This revenue loss would be in addition to the costly 2013 tax plan, which is projected to reduce state revenue by as much as $1.1 billion for the fiscal year that ends June 30.

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NC Budget and Tax Center

We are largely a nation of immigrants, and relatively recent ones at that. Waves of immigrants have come to the United States over the past several centuries, transforming the county from a colonial backwater to the wealthiest nation on the planet.  A report just out shows how important immigrant business owners are to communities across the country. As can be seen below, immigrants are over-represented as business owners, and it turns out they make up a particularly large share of main street proprietors.

Immigrant Percentage of Workforce and Business Ownership

The role that immigrants play as local business owners tends to be overshadowed in the policy debate surrounding immigration policy in the U.S.  Amidst the talk about border security, paths to citizenship, and human rights, we tend to overlook the fact that immigrants are vital to the economic backbone of the United States, small businesses. The Fiscal Policy Institute report shows that while immigrants make up 16% of the labor force, they own 28% of the main street businesses in the U.S. In many communities, immigrants make up a larger share of small businesses owners today than they did a decade ago, which is clearly shown in the graph below. Moreover, the report underscores how important immigrant businesses can be as early instruments of community revitalization, going into neighborhoods and communities when larger firms are still hesitant to invest.

Immigrant Business Ownership in Major Cities 2000 to 2013

Here are some of the other highlights from the report:

  • Immigrants are more important to metro small business communities than ten years ago. The report shows that the share of businesses owned by people born outside the United States has gone up in virtually every major metropolitan area in the country in the last 10-15 years. This includes both Charlotte and Raleigh, which saw marked jumps in immigrant small business ownership from 2000 to 2013.
  • Immigrants are particularly likely to own very small businesses. More than 80% of businesses owned by immigrants had ten or fewer employees, compared to just over 70% for native-born business owners. Many of these immigrant businesses are in main street service sectors, like laundries, barber shops, restaurants, groceries, and travel accommodation.
  • Immigrants are less likely to use a bank loan to start their businesses. Particularly on main street, native born business owners are more likely to get bank loans while immigrants are more likely to rely on personal savings. There are a host of reasons for this, but it is a point of concern. Access to capital is the lifeblood of small business, so if immigrants find it difficult to secure startup and operating capital, communities may lose businesses that are otherwise solid, or miss out of new businesses that never got off the ground.
  • Case studies in engaging immigrant business owners show the importance of public policies in supporting the success of these entrepreneurs. The report highlights economic revitalization efforts in Philadelphia, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Nashville that focus on the needs of immigrant business owners.

When you take a sober look at the economic data, its clear that immigrants are essential to the economic well-being of the United States. Whatever you think about recent Executive actions, or what needs to be done about immigration policy generally, this is not an issue that we can afford to ignore. Immigrants have always been part of the U.S. economic history and, if we want to remain one of the most dynamic economic markets in the world, immigrants will be at the heart of those future stories as well.

NC Budget and Tax Center

The latest Who Pays? report released today by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) takes a look at the fairness of state tax systems. For North Carolina, the lowest income North Carolinians pay over 70 percent more in state and local taxes as a share of their income compared to the state’s wealthiest residents, the ITEP report highlights.

The lowest 20 percent of North Carolinians – with an average income of $10,700 – pay 9.2 percent of their income in state and local taxes, the study finds, compared to 5.3 percent for the top 1 percent, the average income for this group is $969,100.

North Carolina’s unfair tax system presents both short- and long-term challenges and concerns. The state’s unfair tax system not only contributes to widening income inequality in the short term, but also leaves the state struggling to raise adequate revenue for public investments in the long term, ITEP notes. These realities are already playing out in the North Carolina. As state lawmakers return to Raleigh this week for the 2015 legislative session they face an ongoing revenue shortfall as a result of tax cuts passed in 2013.

North Carolina has moved away from many features that create a fairer tax system. State lawmakers replaced a graduated personal income tax rate structure (meaning the higher one’s income, the higher one’s effective personal income tax rate) with a flat rate that doesn’t take into account a taxpayer’s ability to pay, allowed the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit to expire, expanded the sales tax base, and allowed the corporate income tax rate to be cut from 6.9 to 5 percent and potentially as low as 3 percent.

These changes have resulted in a sizable reduction in revenue, with the state now challenged with funding basic public obligations such as education and healthcare services for the elderly and poor. Returning to a graduated income tax rate structure, reestablishing a state Earned Income Tax Credit, creating a renter’s credit or an enhanced and refundable Child Tax Credit, and stopping further tax cuts that largely benefit the wealthy and profitable corporations are important opportunities to create a fairer state tax code.

A state tax code that works for all North Carolina taxpayers is important for ensuring that economic opportunity and prosperity is broadly shared. The Who Pays? report highlights that there is work to be done to make this a reality.

NC Budget and Tax Center

The 13th Annual Economic Forecast Forum, sponsored by the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce and North Carolina Bankers Association was held on Monday, January 5th. The event raised a range of issues, but a few are particularly relevant to the upcoming legislative session and the economic prospects of North Carolinians.

More cash for incentives is Governor McCrory’s first legislative priority: In his remarks, Governor McCrory launched an impassioned plea for a new economic development fund to lure large businesses to North Carolina. Saying that he is negotiating with companies that are considering investing in North Carolina, the Governor said that his first legislative priority is creating a new incentive fund. North Carolina already gives away millions of dollars a year in incentives, but being even more generous with large companies is the Governor’s first order of business for the new legislative session.

Regardless of what you think about incentives generally, it is rather odd to see the Governor making the creation of a new fund his top priority. First, incentives often go to companies that locate in parts of the state that already enjoy robust economic growth, so doubling down on this approach to economic development will likely do little to help areas that are struggling the most. Second, the program that the Governor described would only help very large corporations, which would ignore the vital role that small and medium sized companies play in creating new jobs. Third, we are heading into a legislative session where funds are already stretched thin for vital state services, so it is unclear what would have to be cut in order to free up funds to pay out to large mobile companies. If this policy is passed early in the legislative session, as the Governor insists is necessary, the real cost will only become clear when it comes time to produce a balanced budget several months later.

Head of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina touts Medicaid expansion: Brad Wilson, President and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield argued that state leaders should change course and opt to expand Medicaid, a move that would cover hundreds of thousands of people, with the bill being largely paid by the federal government. Wilson pointed out that the failure to expand Medicaid has left more than half a million North Carolinians without health coverage and has cost the state $1.1 billion in federal funding. Not expanding Medicaid results in North Carolina taxpayers subsidizing health care costs in other states with none of those funds returning to serve the residents of our state. Moreover, because people who would otherwise be covered by expanding Medicaid are forced to seek medical care through emergency rooms, and often lack the resources to pay for that care, health insurers are forced to increase premiums on North Carolina rate payers to cover the costs of covering the uninsured. The result is that North Carolinians end of paying twice for not expanding Medicaid, once when we file our federal taxes and again when we pay our health insurance bill.

Mr. Wilson referenced a new economic report showing that all counties would benefit from expanding Medicaid. In contrast to most economic development grants, Medicaid expansion would inject capital and create jobs in virtually every community across North Carolina, while also improving the health and productivity of the workforce in the process.  Wilson’s statements are important in and of themselves, but they are also part of a larger trend. More Republican governors, like Florida’s Rick Scott, who initially wanted nothing to do with anything connected to Obamacare, have come to support expanding Medicaid. Beyond the moral dimension, expanding Medicaid has significant economic upside for the state, and it is telling that this event featured a prominent member of the business community making just that case.

Wells Fargo economist projects robust growth in coming years: Wells Fargo Managing Director and Chief Economist Mark Vitner is bullish about North Carolina’s economic prospects in the next few years. Saying that we have finally hit the “sweet spot” of the current expansion, Vitner expects 3-4% growth per year for 2015 and 2016. Vitner noted that all sectors except government saw employment growth in the last year, and expects to see the same this year. Even the residential housing market is starting to recover, having digested the glut of housing left by the recession, and North Carolina’s growing population creating more long-term demand for homes and apartments.

Current growth does appear to be strengthening but the recovery to date has been too reliant on low-wage jobs, has been largely concentrated in urban areas and frankly employment growth has been insufficient to keep up with the state’s growing population. So while North Carolina is poised to follow the national trend of an improving economy, we need to keep an eye on whether growth translates into decent pay and jobs for everyone in the state who wants to work.  State policy decisions over the next year will influence whether the recovery comes home across North Carolina. Policymakers will have opportunities to address the uneven recovery and ensure that people can find good jobs, affordable healthcare, quality education, and economically vibrant local communities.

Concerns about a “barbell economy”: A morning panel on the role of technology in North Carolina’s economic future repeatedly addressed the disappearance of mid-wage jobs. The term “barbell economy” was used to describe the rapid growth in low-wage and high-wage jobs in recent years, coupled with meager job opportunities in the middle of the wage scale. Panelists expressed concern that as technology replaces human labor in many industries, we could be looking at a long-term decline in the number of middle-income jobs. This may be the most troubling long-term trend facing North Carolina. The hollowing-out of the labor market, with more and more of the wealth generated by the economy going to a smaller and smaller group of people, makes it more difficult to sustain the middle class economic activities—buying goods and services, purchasing homes, sending kids to college– that support robust growth.

The forecast presented at the Chamber forum was generally sunny, with solid growth over the next few years across most industries, but there are deeper questions about the long-term structure of the labor market, and whether solid growth will continue to create enough medium-wage jobs to support a middle-class. This is not just a North Carolina story, but it is something that we can do something about, and it was heartening to see this issue highlighted at this event.