NC Budget and Tax Center

Latest sales tax expansion highlights need for state EITC

Today North Carolinians will begin paying sales tax on various installation, repair and maintenance services on everything from appliances to musical instruments to vehicles. This modest expansion of the sales tax base was included in the state budget passed by state lawmakers last year and represents another step towards aligning the state’s tax code with a more service-based economy. Today, the purchase of services is far more common than the purchase of goods compared to prior periods and this economic activity trend is likely to continue.

The effort to better align the state’s tax code with a 21st century economy is important. However, proponents of the sales tax move have used this good tax policy to fuel far more bad ones. The sales tax base expansion is part of a larger transformation of the state’s tax code that shifts away from the income tax, which is a better tax policy tool for achieving long-term revenue adequacy via a structure that’s based on ability to pay. Furthermore, this shift away from the income tax and to a greater reliance on the sales tax fails to acknowledge the increased tax responsibility on low- and middle-income taxpayers and away from the wealthiest who have reaped the greatest benefits from tax changes since 2013.

State lawmakers continue to be susceptible to special interests and this was highlighted with decisions regarding the expansion of the sales tax. Read more

NC Budget and Tax Center

Better tax policy tool available to address state’s upside-down tax system

State lawmakers are once again considering more tax changes that won’t address what’s wrong with our current tax code or what our economy needs. During the Revenue Laws Committee meeting on yesterday, the General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division provided committee members information regarding how raising the state standard deduction would impact taxpayers and state revenue.  This tax change would reduce the income tax owed by a taxpayer but is an expensive one that fails to efficiently target the low- and middle-income taxpayers who carry a heavier tax load than wealthy taxpayers.  A refundable state Earned Income Tax Credit is the better tool for North Carolina policymakers concerned about tax equity.

Tax changes passed since 2013 that include large income tax cuts that largely benefit the already well-off and profitable corporations have made North Carolina’s upside-down tax system worst. State lawmakers expanded the sales tax to more goods and services to partially pay for these costly tax cuts. The regressive sales tax hits low-income North Carolinians particularly hard, as they spend a larger share of their income on goods and services subject to the sales tax. This deliberate move by lawmakers to a greater reliance on the sale tax and less reliance on the income tax has shifted the tax load to low- and middle-income taxpayers and away from the well-off and profitable corporations.

In a context in which many working families earn low-wages and struggle to meet basic needs, there is increased recognition at the national level that the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is the best tool to ensure workers keep more of what they earn and in so doing move families out of poverty. Here’s why a refundable EITC makes the most sense for North Carolina: many low- and moderate- income North Carolinians are not subject to a state income tax because they don’t earn enough income. However, they pay a significant share of their income in other taxes—like sales and property taxes—and the EITC helps offset the higher tax responsibility they have overall relative to wealthier taxpayers. Moreover, increasing the standard deduction would reduce the income taxes paid for all tax filers who don’t itemize, not just those with low-incomes.

Increasing the standard deduction by $2,000 not only is poorly targeted but is also costly. Fiscal Research estimates that such a proposal would reduce state revenue by as much as $205 million for tax year 2017. The actual cost may be higher considering that a higher percentage of NC taxpayers (beyond the 70 estimate by Fiscal Research) are likely to take the standard deduction as a result of tax changes since 2013. Restoring a state EITC at 5 percent of the federal amount would be half the cost of increasing the standard deduction at that level and reach nearly one million working but low-income families and their children.

If policymakers are willing to spend $200 million to address inequities in our state’s tax code then restoring a state refundable EITC and doubling its value to 10 percent of the federal amount is the better policy choice.

NC Budget and Tax Center

A better way to fix the tax shift to working North Carolinians

As part of ongoing negotiations to produce a state budget, state lawmakers would like to provide more tax cuts to North Carolina taxpayers. This tax proposal, while unclear in the details (is it another reduction to the already low 5.75 percent personal income tax rate?), would offset the increase in various DMV fees included in the budget passed by House members.

A refundable state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a great way for state lawmakers to fulfill their desired goal of ensuring working families aren’t paying more as a result of their budget choices. The EITC provides a modest boost to the wages of low- and moderate-income workers, which will help offset additional costs resulting from an increase in DMV fees. Prior to its elimination in 2014, more than 927,000 North Carolinians claimed the state EITC, with working families in each of the state’s 100 counties benefiting from the tax credit.

State lawmakers’ reported agreement to provide $110 million in tax cuts to offset the DMV fee hikes is close to the value of the state EITC. For FY 2013, prior to its elimination, the state EITC cost around $101 million, which is less than the tax cut target agreed to by state lawmakers. The EITC is the best targeted tool to address the upside-down nature of the state’s tax code. Better than an increased standard deduction, the tax credit is proven by years of experience and research to effectively target working families who earn low wages so that they can make ends meet, support their children’s healthy development and boost the economy.

If state lawmakers are serious about correcting the imbalance in the state’s tax code, a refundable state EITC is the most effective way to support children and working families and help spur economic activity in local communities across the state.

NC Budget and Tax Center

Momentum is building in other states when it comes to strong tax credits for working families

Within the last month, policymakers in three states approved tax changes that will strengthen family economic security and support a stronger, more inclusive economy. Policymakers in New Jersey and Rhode Island approved expansions in their state Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC) and California officials adopted its first state EITC, which goes to people that work but earn low wages so that they can better make ends meet and avoid raising their children in poverty.

North Carolina is no longer among the 26 states that have a state EITC. Our state lawmakers allowed the state EITC to expire in 2013 when they enacted deep tax cuts that primarily benefited the wealthy and profitable corporations. The result was a tax shift—away from the wealthy and onto everyone else—that did nothing to improve the financial well-being of people who work hard for low pay and struggle to pay the bills.

On the other end of the spectrum, New Jersey lawmakers approved an increase in its state EITC to 30 percent from 20 percent of the federal credit that will benefit over half a million families. Read more

NC Budget and Tax Center

Policy gifts are one of the best ways to give back to moms

This piece was originally featured on Women AdvaNCe’s blog and is cross-posted here.

Working Tar Heel moms are never off the clock. From laboring at the workplace all day to tucking kids in at night, we put in a lot more than a full day’s work. Much of the work is tireless, thankless, and unpaid. But for the paid work, every dollar moms work for is hard earned. These are some of the many reasons why we celebrated moms this week.

Flowers and breakfast were great, but this Mother’s Day we needed to keep our sights on what’s happening in Washington, D.C. Congress can help 750,000 moms right here in North Carolina by making permanent improvements to tax credits that put money back into the pockets of moms who’ve earned it. Without action from Congress, these credits expire at the end of 2017.

The state’s economy is experiencing a boom in low-wage work—a trend that is falling disproportionately hard on women. For more than 21 million working moms across the country, including 763,000 in North Carolina, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) are important tools that help them make ends meet in today’s economy. By offsetting income and sales taxes, these credits boost income, support work, and reduce poverty—especially among children.

Allowing moms to keep more of what they earn also helps keep poverty in check. Read more