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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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Commentary

morning assembly 1The Second Chance Alliance held its 3rd Biennial Second Chance Lobby Day at the North Carolina General Assembly on Tuesday. More than 200 North Carolinians gathered to share their stories with lawmakers and lobby in support of policies that help people reenter their communities after incarceration.

The Lobby Day kicked off with an assembly featuring law makers and formerly incarcerated North Carolinians. Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice Commissioner David Guice gave the keynote address, and spoke strongly in favor of policies that help people trying to reenter society and maintain productive lives. Umar Mohammed, a community organizer from Durham, shared his personal story about coming out of incarceration as a youth to find that employers were unwilling to hire him due to his record:

“This is not just my story. I have a whole community with the same story. Luckily I came home and was able to find support and mentors. We’re capable and able to do the work. These barriers have to come down. We want to ban the box.”

thank you postcards 1

Lobby Day participants met with their legislators to express their support for a broad policy agenda, including several bills currently under consideration in the legislature:

  • Adequate funding for community-based reentry service systems;
  • Reasonable waiting periods for expunction of non-violent crimes;
  • Expanded access to certificates of relief;
  • Fair use of criminal records for jobseekers;
  • Raising the age for adult prosecution of misdemeanors to 18.

Click here to learn more about the Second Chance Alliance and past reentry legislation.

 

Commentary

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank is a “hit and miss” columnist who who frequently comes off as the worst kind of D.C. insider, but his latest column on the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement and the plan to “fast track” approval, which is featured in the morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer, is on the money. The column rightfully blasts the Obama administration for plowing ahead with the agreement despite the myriad potential disasters it holds for American workers and consumers.

“[Elizabeth] Warren is right: The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is an abomination – not because of the deal itself, and not because free trade in general is a bad idea. The TPP is an abomination because Obama had a chance to protect American workers from the harm that would inevitably come from such a pact, and he didn’t take it, or at least he hasn’t.”

And for an even more comprehensive and damning take on the whole plan, check out the following two  posts from the good people at the Global Trade Watch section of the national nonprofit advocacy group, Public Citizen:

1. A detailed explanation of why “Fast Track” is a terrible way to approach this momentous agreement, and
2. “50 reasons we cannot afford the TPP” (which leads off by highlighting the situation in North Carolina):

North Carolina: North Carolina has lost more than 369,000 manufacturing jobs – nearly half – since NAFTA and NAFTA expansion pacts have taken effect.  More than 212,000 specific North Carolina jobs have been certified under just one narrow Department of Labor program as lost to offshoring or imports since NAFTA.

The bottom line: Free trade can be a good thing, but it needs to be fair trade too. Rushing into the TPP could be a real disaster — especially for states like North Carolina that have already lost so much.

NC Budget and Tax Center

I recently noted the differing approaches of President Obama and Congress regarding tax changes, developing a budget and supporting the economy. In particular, I noted Congress’ push to eliminate the federal estate tax – which applies to very large inheritances by a small group of wealthy heirs.

Over the years, the amount of inheritance that is exempt from the federal estate tax has increased exponentially while efforts to raise the minimum wage in line with the growing costs of meeting basic needs have stalled.

In 2001, the federal minimum wage was $5.15 an hour and remained at that level until 2008 when it was increased to $5.85 an hour and then to $7.25 in 2010, where it remains today. On this issue, North Carolina has not differed from federal law, with a state minimum wage of $7.25 as well.

By contrast, in 2001, the amount of estate inheritance that could be exempt from the federal estate tax was $625,000. By 2008, this exemption amount increased to $2 million and for 2015 the exemption amount is $5.43 million. In 2013, North Carolina state lawmakers completely eliminated the state’s estate tax (only 23 North Carolina taxpayers paid an estate tax for the 2012 tax year). In the same year state lawmakers eliminated the state Earned Income Tax Credit, which helped more than 900,000 low- and moderate-income taxpayers who earn low wages keep more of what they earn to offset an already regressive state tax system. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

The March employment numbers out today show another month of positive, but relatively lackluster economic performance in North Carolina. The unemployment rate in North Carolina has now been essentially flat for the last five months and the number of unemployed North Carolinians has actually increased in the first three months of 2015.

According to analysis of the latest labor market data by the Budget & Tax Center, employment levels have edged up in the last year, but are still well below the pre-recession norm. In fact, a smaller share of North Carolinians have a job today than during the worst of the recession that followed the 9/11 attacks.

“The North Carolina economy has been idling along for several months and continues to be weaker than it was in 2007,” said Patrick McHugh of the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center. “The worry now is that we’ll see a new normal, with lower levels of employment and paychecks that don’t go as far.”

Other highlights of the March data include:

  • Unemployment rate not making gains: After falling dramatically from 2009 through the third quarter of 2014, the state and national unemployment rates have flattened out in recent months. Even while the state continues to add jobs, growth is not enough to push unemployment below the 5% threshold that most economists see as the top-end of a healthy labor market. Part of the flattening out may be attributable to people coming back into the labor force, which would be good news. However, it is still troubling to see the labor market falling well short of full employment.
  • 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 more than a quarter-million North Carolinians looking for work, approximately 10% more than at the end of 2007.
  • Percent of North Carolinians employed still near historic lows: March numbers showed 57.5% of North Carolinians were employed, which is up 1 percentage point from March 2014. However, this still leaves North Carolina well below the level of employment that was commonplace before the Great Recession. In the mid-2000’s, employment levels were generally between 62% and 63%. Moreover, the level of employment in North Carolina has fallen behind the national average, when the state was generally at or above the nation in the pre-recession period.

For more context on the current state of the North Carolina economy, check out a recent report that reviews the last seven years of economic data and the Budget & Tax Center’s weekly Prosperity Watch platform.