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: