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Tax shiftIn their never ending quest to tilt it more and more in favor of themselves and their wealthy backers, state lawmakers are again touting a plan to shift North Carolina’s tax system away from income taxes and further onto the sales tax.

As Raleigh’s News & Observer reported in this article, the move was endorsed this week at a legislative hearing by a right-wing group that calls itself the Tax Foundation. Critics of the idea were not invited to speak.

Such a shift is a dreadful idea.

Not only will it make our tax system more regressive than it already is (thereby taxing the wealthy at much lower rates than the poor and middle class), it will make the system much less flexible and resilient to meet the needs of a growing state. While it does make sense to broaden the base of the sales tax to capture more economic transactions, this should be married with a plan to lower sales tax rates so that the tax does not become a monster.

For a healthy revenue system that remains stable and is better able to withstand the ups and downs of the economy, North Carolina needs a healthy balance of a progressive personal income tax, a broad-based sales tax and reasonable property taxes at the local level.

An editorial in this morning’s Fayetteville Observer puts it gently but accurately in assessing this week’s hearing:

“Legislators didn’t invite any opposing viewpoints. It’s clear that the architects of state tax policy want to more aggressively cut corporate and personal income taxes.

If the lawmakers had invited tax experts with differing views, they might have considered the impact that a shift to broader sales taxes has on the poor, who spend a larger percentage of their incomes on basic goods and services. It’s the same problem that plagues proposals for a “flat tax.” Wealthier people who don’t need all of their income for living expenses pay a far smaller share of their earnings in taxes. The shift away from income taxes and toward consumption taxes is one of the driving forces behind the growing gap between rich and poor in the U.S.

While we agree that some shift of sales taxes to services was unavoidable in an increasingly service-based economy, we hope state tax code writers move with caution there, lest they create even broader gulfs between the haves and the have-nots.”

Commentary

As the good people at the great website Too Much Online regularly point out, U.S. inequality is now hitting astounding levels. Consider the following from the group’s recent newsletter:

“You can’t really appreciate how phenomenally unequal the United States has become until you take a gander at America’s peer nations. Consider the UK, for instance. Britain has emerged as one of the world’s most unequal nations. New official UK stats certainly reinforce that reputation.

In the UK, the new numbers show, the richest 10 percent hold 45 percent of the nation’s private wealth. The poorest half own just 9 percent.

But this UK inequality simply pales against the inequity across the pond. In the United States, the latest Federal Reserve figures point out, the top 10 percent owns 75.3 percent of our national wealth. And the households of the bottom half? Their wealth holdings add up to just 1.1 percent.”

Now check out the group’s new infographic about how our regressive tax structure contributes to this situation:

taxing-the-ultra-rich-a-little-history-1-638

Commentary

Here’s the deal on the subject of expanding the sales tax base to include services as Gov. McCrory and the General Assembly have decided to do: It actually can be a good idea, but only if it’s paired with a plan to lower the overall sales tax rate and provide targeted tax cuts (like the Earned Income Tax Credit) to lower income people.

Unfortunately and remarkably, however, McCrory and state lawmakers are simply ignoring this simple truth and instead pairing the sales tax expansion with personal and corporate income tax cuts that overwhelmingly favor the wealthy. As Chris Fitzsimon pointed out this afternoon:

“Supporters of the new sales tax plan claim that it is not a tax increase, that it will be offset by a reduction in the personal income tax rate. But that’s not true for the folks at the bottom of the economic ladder who will receive very little, if anything, from the income tax cut.

Millionaires by the way will receive a $2,000 break and that’s on top of the windfall they received in the 2013 tax cut package.

Low income folks won’t be so lucky.

You might be wondering how this regressive tax scheme passed the General Assembly and what people said it about it as it made its way through the legislative process.

It never went through any committee. It appeared out of nowhere in the final budget agreement and questions about the formula and how to distribute the money in future years were not answered

Proposals to restore the state Earned Income Tax Credit to help low wage workers and their families that could offset a sales tax hike have also been repeatedly ignored.

There are plenty of reasons why the budget unveiled by House and Senate leaders this week takes North Carolina in the wrong direction.

One big one is that it raises taxes on people who can least afford to pay more.”

Meanwhile, that sound of crickets chirping? That’s the response to the new plan from the far right think tanks that have lectured us for years about the supposed evil of raising taxes in North Carolina. By all indications, they go along with the Governor’s bizarre take that raising taxes on people at the bottom is okay so long as the result is to reduce state revenue overall. Talk about your worst of all worlds outcomes.

Commentary

foreclosed house-for Rob(1).jpgHere’s an issue from the current state policy debate that hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention in recent days: the General Assembly’s new plan to tax homeowners who manage to get some of their debt forgiven in order to avoid foreclosure and stay in their homes. Under the new gas tax compromise brokered by the House and Senate and tentatively approved yesterday, the Senate’s original plan to tax these homeowners for the loan forgiveness — something the feds do not do — has been put back in the bill.

As the one state capital journalist who has been doing a consistently solid job of following this issue, Mark Binker of WRAL, reported last week:

“North Carolina has decided to charge taxes on some items that would have gone untaxed due to changes to federal laws. The most controversial change along these lines has to do with mortgage debt that is forgiven.

When someone who is in a financial pinch has the amount they owe on their home forgiven through a debt relief program, that can be counted as income. The federal government decided not to tax this amount, but the state will under the Senate Bill 20.

This change was controversial when the measure passed through the Senate because it levies a big tax bill on those trying to work their way out of debt. When House lawmakers first passed this bill, they excluded the mortgage forgiveness from taxes. The compromise measure takes the Senate position.”

You got that? even as people throughout the state gnash teeth and get hot under the collar about a few pennies on a gallon of gas, many North Carolinians will now quite possibly and unnecessarily lose their homes as the result of new taxes that directly defeat the purpose of public programs that were designed to save them. The move is, in short, a perfect symbol of the shortsighted and regressive approach to tax policy that is one of the signature features of the current state political leadership.

Uncategorized

Alexandra Sirota, Director of the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center and the state’s leading independent tax policy expert issued the following brief statement this morning after the House Finance Committee debated and approved legislation to overhaul North Carolina’s tax code:

“This tax plan will provide the wealthiest North Carolinians a tax cut while middle-class and low-income taxpayers pay more.

The only amendment accepted makes things worse — adding $525 million to the price tag and bringing the revenue loss each year to nearly a $1 billion.  Without this vital revenue, North Carolina can’t  make needed investments in our economy, our children’s education, the health of our seniors and the safety of our communities.”  

Click here for a fact sheet with more information on the legislation (HB 998).