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ThanksgivingIf you’re preparing for the inevitable political discussions that will accompany your family get-togethers this week, here are three new Thanksgiving-themed posts that might help you out:

#1 is today’s Fitzsimon File, which highlights the hypocritical change of heart that so many conservative politicians display toward people in need around the holidays. As Chris notes, the disconnect between what the politicians say about the same needy people during the holidays and the other 11 months of the years is frequently breathtaking.

#2 is a new Q&A from the N.C. Budget and Tax Center entitled “How to talk about the economy and taxes with your family.” Here’s an example:

WHEN THEY SAY: “This state is spending more than ever on public education.”

YOU SAY: We’re funding public schools in NC nearly 6 percent less than in 2008 when you adjust for how much things cost.  This would be like the Panthers claiming a touchdown at the 6 yard line.

As the economy improves—and it is improving—we need to invest in our public schools to ensure that we educate our kids and build a sound foundation for future economic growth. Without investing more, we can’t ensure that our classrooms, teachers and students have the cutting-edge tools to improve learning.

Finally, #3 is this morning’s edition of the Weekly Briefing (“Food for thought on the immigration question”) in which several key facts are spelled out (and myths exposed) about President Obama’s executive order on immigration last week. For example: Read More

Commentary

Facts matter in policymaking. A growing number of data tools are available to help inform policymakers and the public of local conditions and trends so that policies to respond can be data-driven and achieve better, efficient results.  The latest tool is the Opportunity Index released annually by the Opportunity Nation and Measure of America.  This interactive website provides state and county level data on economic, education and civic factors that inform us about the levels of opportunity for residents.

North Carolina ranks 35th in the nation in terms of its level of opportunity with a total score of 50.6 below the national average of 52.8.  The good news is that North Carolina’s score has improved since 2011 when the Opportunity Nation and Measure of America first released the index but this improvement, by 3.1 percentage points, was insufficient progress relative to other states to move our state up significantly in the rankings.  NC was ranked 36th in 2011.

A few indicators were clearly moving in the wrong direction for North Carolina over this period:  poverty increased from 16.3 percent to 18 percent, median household income declined by more than $2,000 and the number of 3- and 4- year olds in public or private preschool fell from 46.7 percent to 42.2 percent. Read More

Commentary

Pat McCrory press eventGovernor Pat McCrory is reportedly considering calling the General Assembly into special session to put more money into one of the state’s primary business incentive schemes, the Job Development Incentive Grant program, or JDIG.

Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker says the state is pursuing several big economic development projects and is bumping up against the $22.5 million cap on JDIG grants.

If all this sounds familiar, it should. Decker was openly calling for special session two months ago. Here’s what she told the N.C. Economic Development Board in August.

Decker told board members that money in the popular JDIG incentives fund would run out by late October without legislative action to increase the cap. The state, she said, is pursuing a large project that would take 80 percent of the fund’s balance, leaving little cash for about 30 other projects – and roughly 10,000 jobs – that are “in the pipeline.”

“We won’t get all of those jobs even with the Job Development Investment Grant, but I can assure you we will get fewer of them if we don’t have it,” Decker said.

….Decker wants a special session to be called soon. “Several folks have said to me, ‘Can you wait until the (2015) long session?’ We can’t, in my opinion,” she said.

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NC Budget and Tax Center

North Carolina officials will soon have spent all available financial incentives the state offers to businesses that are considering locating or expanding in the state. Each year the state awards millions of dollars in subsidies to businesses through its Jobs Development Investment Grant (JDIG) program.

The state is now one project announcement away from spending all of the $22.5 million in funding allocated to JDIG for the current year, accordingly to state Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker. Governor McCrory is being urged by proponents to call a special legislative session before January 2015 to increase funding for the JDIG program. Yet, this is coming at a time when state revenue collections are $62 million below projections for the first quarter of the current fiscal year as the cost of the tax plan passed last year continues to increase. The reality is that absent additional revenue, increasing funding for the JDIG program means cuts in other areas of the state budget to pay for the additional spending.

Secretary Decker states that “Tax reform has helped us because we are no longer the highest in the Southeast, and that is great” and goes on to assert “But, we will not be competitive for those jobs without JDIG.” Yet, it is tax reform that was supposed to spur job creation and boost the economy, but is nevertheless hindering our ability to invest in JDIG and core public services that are stronger determinants of sustainable job creation and economic growth. State revenue collections are $62 million below projections for the first quarter of the current fiscal year and as we have written elsewhere, the cost of the tax plan for the current fiscal year could be more than $1 billion. The tax plan passed last year, sold as a job-creation package, reduced the state’s personal and corporate income tax rates to largely benefit the wealthy and profitable corporations. Still, more corporate subsidies are being asked for in the name of job creation.

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NC Budget and Tax Center

Voters in Mecklenburg, Guilford, and Rockingham counties each rejected a ballot initiative to increase its local sales tax by one-quarter cent. Under these referendums, consumers would have paid 25 cents in additional sales tax per $100 spent on goods and services subject to sales tax. The sales tax increase was expected to generate around $32 million for Mecklenburg County, $14 million for Guilford County, and $1.5 million for Rockingham County in additional local revenue each year.

This rejection of a sales tax increase highlights the tenuous reality of funding for public education in North Carolina. Last year, state lawmakers passed a tax plan that significantly reduced revenue available for public schools and other important public services. The tax plan has proven to be more costly than state policymakers’ initial estimate and the implications of this self-imposed revenue crisis will reverberate across the state in the years ahead. Meanwhile, some local governments are bracing for the revenue losses associated with the elimination of the local privilege license tax, which goes into effect next July.

Of the three counties rejecting a proposed sales tax increase, Mecklenburg County has experienced significant growth in its student population in recent years. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) is the second largest, and one of the fastest growing school systems in the state. For the most recent 2013-14 school year, more than 144,000 students were enrolled in CMS, with nearly 10,000 additional students entering CMS classrooms since 2008. Guilford County has experienced modest growth in its student population (1,326 additional students) while the student population for Rockingham County has declined (990 fewer students) since 2008. Read More