The latest issue of the Justice Center’s Prosperity Watch is out and it explains some big practical problems that have become apparent in the new sales tax distribution changes that became law with the FY2016-17 state budget. As economist Patrick McHugh explains:

“The new allocation system does not target the states’ areas of most dire economic need. North Carolina divides counties up into three economic tiers, with Tier 1 being the most distressed and Tier 3 the most economically robust. As shown above, the forty Tier 1 counties receive roughly 1/3rd of the new allocation, while the majority goes to Tier 2 and 3 counties that are comparably better off. In fact, the average allotment received by Tier 2 counties is almost twice as large as what the average Tier 1 county will receive. While some struggling rural communities will get a bump in revenue, a more targeted mechanism or a direct appropriation made possible by an adequate state tax code could have sent even more to where it is needed the most.

There’s also concern about whether this new fund will come from new revenue, or will cannibalize existing sales tax collections. The bulk of the funds to be distributed according to this new system are projected to come from expanding the sales tax to a variety of repair and maintenance services, but it is next to impossible to accurately predict how much revenue will come from expanding the sales tax base in this way. If expanding the sales tax does not raised the projected revenue, this new fund could eat into the dollars distributed according to the existing formula or require greater appropriation of state dollars, resulting in a smaller net gain for counties that receive a part of this new fund.”

Add to this the fact that the changes were included in a budget that, as McHugh puts it, “will undermine state and local governments’ ability to build good schools and vibrant economies,” and you’ve got even more reason to be very worried about what lawmakers and Gov. McCrory have wrought with their duct-tape-and-baling-wire budget and tax package. The graph below illustrates the disconnect in the new law:

NC Budget and Tax Center

A provision in the budget will, if enacted, will change the way sales tax is distributed. The budget creates a new pot of $84.8 million to be distributed to county and municipal governments for economic development, public education, and community college purposes.

Similar Senate proposals earlier this session met a frosty reception in the House and a promise from Governor McCrory to veto any budget that included such a move. On the surface, what’s in the budget looks very different from earlier proposals, and there are important distinctions, but the cumulative impact is actually quite similar to what we have already seen.

Before getting into the details on how the new system would work, a few top-level points should be underscored:

  • It is good to discuss how we can help struggling local communities to meet the economic and educational challenges that they face: This proposal is rooted in a very real fact. Many local communities, particularly in rural North Carolina, are strapped. Regardless of what you think about the proposals floated this session, it is good to see the legislative leaders acknowledging that many local communities don’t have the resources to build a strong economy or provide a sound education.
  • This proposal won’t fix the economic problems in rural North Carolina: None of the proposals to date would generate enough revenue to meet the economic and educational challenges that many communities face. In fact, the legislature has contributed to the problem in recent years by limiting how local governments can raise funds and by cutting back on what the state passes along to the local level. The budget proposal would set aside almost $85 million for suburban and rural counties, which isn’t chump change, but still not enough to make up for years of under-investment.

The actual budget mechanism for shifting funds around is a bit complicated, and we won’t know the real effect for some time, but the cumulative impact is likely to be similar to proposals we’ve seen already: Read More


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.


Health numbersThe legislative debate over Medicaid reform over the last two weeks once again revealed the Senate’s misplaced priorities – profits over people. The health of North Carolinians was not only compromised by pushing reform that employs commercial insurers and dismantling Community Care North Carolina (CCNC), but also by failing to expanding Medicaid to the half million people in the Coverage Gap. It is surprising that for a governing body that focuses most of its efforts on profits, the Senate fails to recognize the economic benefits of Medicaid expansion.

Unfortunately, many conservative policymakers agree with Sen. Harry Brown when he stated, “Every state that has expanded Medicaid has created a financial problem in their state budgets” during the expansion debate. Black and white statements like his fail to present the complete and complex picture of each state’s expansion experience. To present a more accurate picture, the Health Access Coalition created a chart outlining the successes and challenges for each of the 30 states and DC that has expanded Medicaid. The chart also provides information on whether the state used a waiver to expand Medicaid. Waivers allow states to tailor Medicaid expansion to meet specific state needs and even include Medicaid reform.

After reviewing this chart, it becomes clear that the biggest challenge states have experienced is providing health coverage to more people than expected – being able to reduce a state’s uninsured rate to 5 percent should be noted as a success! Further, “over-enrollment” proves that need for health care is great and that the long term benefits will be even greater. However, expansion is complex and along with increased enrollment comes budget concerns for the years when the federal match for expansion lowers from 100 percent to 90 percent starting in 2020. Even though states have to reassess their budgets and establish tools to cover Medicaid costs such as hospital assessments, there are several states that have experienced an economic boost. For example, Arkansas reports a combined savings of $120 million between fiscal years 2014 and 2015 due to expansion. Arizona has also gained of over $30 million in new revenue. Colorado has created 20,000 jobs since Medicaid expansion. One county in Illinois has seen a decrease of $158 million in costs associated with providing care to people without health coverage. Other states like New Hampshire are seeing reduced use of emergency rooms as health services are finally being provided to individual that face many barriers to health care for health concerns such as substance use and mental health.

Unlike Sen. Brown’s sales tax distribution plan, Medicaid expansion will have economic benefits for all 100 counties in North Carolina. Sen. Brown’s district, District 6, includes Jones and Onlsow counties. Failing to expand Medicaid by 2016 will cost Jones County $8.4 million less in business activity, $5.6 million less growth to the county’s economy, and $155.8 thousand less in tax revenue between 2016 and 2020. In Onlsow County, there will be $53 million less to the county’s economy, $77.3 million less in county business activity, and $292.9 thousand less in county tax revenue between 2016 and 2020 without expanding Medicaid. The most important benefit to these counties is that over 5,000 people will gain access to health care, but just in case North Carolina’s health benefits aren’t convincing, expansion will allow for $21 billion in federal funds to enter North Carolina.


Among numerous other dramatic and heretofore unpublicized changes, the Senate unveiled another version of its plan to shift sales tax revenues away from urban counties toward poorer rural counties this morning. And while parties can legitimately debate the wisdom of various sales tax apportionment methods, the underlying premise of the legislation — that adequate tax revenues are essential for communities to fund education and other public structures that are central to economic health and development — runs directly counter to everything else the conservative legislative majority preaches.

On virtually every other day, government is the enemy and the beast that needs to be starved. Somehow, however, when it comes to sales tax revenue, all of a sudden government is essential for community health.If you doubt this, listen to Senator Harry Brown preach about the inability of counties like his (Onslow) to offer teacher salary supplements and build new schools.

Earth to Senator Brown: There are lots of ways to get after the problem of inadequately funded public structures and services…like, for instance, not wrecking the state income tax.

The bottom line: It would be nice if these guys would get their story straight.  While their rhetoric this morning on the importance of public investments is welcome, the hypocrisy it evidences with respect to just about everything else they do and say is stunning.