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It hasn’t taken long for the costly tax plan passed last year to replace grandiose promises with an unfortunate reality. State officials recently confirmed that the 2013 tax plan passed by state policymakers will cost at least $200 million more each year than initially projected, with a price tag of at least $5.3 billion over the next five years. Our own estimates point to the potential for the total revenue loss to reach $1.1 billion by 2016.

As the prolonged negotiated budget for fiscal year 2015 highlights, North Carolina’s revenue challenge hampers our ability to invest in public education, healthcare services, and other public investments that serve as the foundation of economic growth.

The General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division (FRD) was charged with assessing the fiscal impact of the tax plan and confirms that the personal income tax rate reduction is having a greater immediate impact on revenue collections. FRD attributes the larger-than-expected eventual revenue shortfall to slower wage growth. But it’s difficult to imagine that the income tax cuts are not driving the greater revenue losses given what we know about who benefits from the tax changes and slower wage growth suggests that the tax changes should cost less, not more. Moreover, slow wage growth raises additional concerns about the reality of a Carolina Comeback. Read More

Governor McCrory signed a final budget into law for the current 2015 fiscal year, which runs from July 2014 through June 2015, this morning. The $21.1 billion budget includes new spending initiatives – largely pay raises for teachers and state employees – but fails to include additional revenue to sustain this spending in the long-term. Contrary to fueling North Carolina’s economic comeback, as Governor McCrory claims, the final budget continues to fund core public services at diminished levels, well below pre-recession levels, and compromises the ability of the state to get ahead and prepare for the future.  Moreover, it puts North Carolina on a fiscally irresponsible path that will continue to create budget challenges in the years ahead, largely as a result of the tax plan that was little debated and discussed in the final budget.

North Carolina faces a revenue challenge, and actions taken within the final budget make this reality clear. The final budget signed by the Governor spends every available dollar and uses dollars from last year’s budget as a result of the Governor requiring agencies to cut their respective budgets. No funding is available to build up the state’s Savings Reserve fund, which is meant to position the state to weather a future economic downturn. Furthermore, the budget relies on one-time funding sources that, once depleted, cannot be replenished with such low revenue and shifts funding for core public investments such as K-12 education to lottery receipts and early childhood programming to federal block grants.

Such budget decisions are driven largely by the tax plan the governor signed into law last year, which significantly reduces revenue available for public investments. Revised analysis by the General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division estimates that the income tax rate cuts in the plan will cost at least $200 million more annually than initially expected – more than $1 billion less in annual revenue once the plan is fully implemented. The Governor and state policymakers failed to account for this reality in the final budget, which means that, absent new revenue, more budget cuts to core public services are likely to occur in future years as the tax plan continues to be implemented. Another round of tax cuts is set to occur in January 2015.

Under the final budget signed by the Governor, state spending remains 6.6 percent below pre-recession levels (see chart below). Read More

SmokeIn an allusion to the signal that’s seen in the Vatican when the leaders of the Catholic Church elect a new Pope, at least one news media report this morning is talking about “white smoke” being visible on Jones Street. The story accompanying the headline, of course, is that leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly signaled over the weekend that they have agreement on the framework of a state budget deal. Assuming it really comes to fruition, the agreement comes a full month into the 2015 fiscal year.

A closer look at those puffs of smoke, however, reveals them to bear a notably blue tinge — that is, the kind one typically see with an engine that’s leaking oil and about to blow. As Alexandra Sirota details in the post immediately below and Chris Fitzsimon highlights in this morning’s “Monday Numbers,” one important impetus for the agreement would appear to be the latest calculations of the General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division staff that the income tax cuts enacted last year are harming state budget revenues even more than had been officially forecast – i.e. more along the lines of what the Budget and Tax Center has been predicting all along.

So, keep in mind a couple of things this week as lawmakers and the Governor are falling all over themselves to issue statements of  self-congratulations:

1) Notwithstanding their rosy claims, the engine driving state government — the tax system — remains cracked and badly in need of an overhaul.

2) The current proposed solution — rolling up the window and ignoring the smoke — will provide only a temporary solution at best.

Jobs11-5During the debate over last year’s billion-dollar-a-year tax cut plan, supporters made a lot of big promises about the supposed economic benefits of cutting corporate and personal income taxes for wealthy individuals and highly profitable corporations. The problem—as many warned at the time—is that tax cuts almost never live up to their promises.

And that’s the point made in a recent piece by the well-respected Fiscal Times. In order for the tax proponents’ claims to be true, North Carolina would have needed to generate job growth that is significantly better than other states and the national average. According to the Fiscal Times:

The trouble is that the promised job growth hasn’t really materialized.

To be sure, with the U.S. economy as a whole adding jobs at a pace of 250,000 per month, there aren’t many states seeing a downturn in employment anymore. But the promises that went along with the tax cuts and reduced spending weren’t about keeping up with the rest of the country, but about surging ahead.

The Fiscal Times examined the job creation record of North Carolina and two other states that have experimented with deep tax cuts—Kansas and Wisconsin—and found that:

The dramatic tax cutting doesn’t appear to have done nearly as much for job growth as promised.

Wisconsin and Kansas, for example, have actually lagged the national average in job creation since their big tax cuts and budget cuts were enacted:

Read More

A recent Washington Post story confirms once more that the anti-taxes, anti-government policies of the conservative leaders running Kansas continue to backfire.

“Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal last month to tout the success of his economic program, particularly several rounds of income tax cuts amounting to the largest in the state’s history. ‘We supported small business by taking away all income taxes on small businesses,’ Brownback wrote, ‘allowing them to reinvest in their businesses, creating jobs and growth. … By giving these companies more money to reinvest in their businesses, we are enabling them to hire more people and invest in needed equipment.’

The only problem? That job growth hasn’t exactly materialized. In fact, as Josh Barro notes in a must-read over at The Upshot today, job growth in Kansas has actually lagged behind the U.S. average, especially in the years following the first round of Brownback tax cuts in 2012.

As the story also notes, the latest finding echo those of a March report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities which found that: Read More