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NC Budget and Tax Center

The budget passed by House members last week makes clear that North Carolina remains hampered by costly decisions made in recent years. Despite modest improvements in some areas of the budget, important public investments that drive the state forward remain well below pre-recession spending levels. The House budget is a reflection of choices and an example of missed opportunities.

Modest funding increases in the House budget are primarily the result of moving the goal post. For example, fully funding enrollment growth for our public schools and providing teachers and state employees a two-percent pay increase are typical budget practices, particularly in budgets crafted during a recovery.

The budget hikes various fees, increases tuition at community colleges, fails to reinstate the state Earned Income Tax Credit, and resorts to cutting funding from certain programs to fund others (e.g., the House reduced funding for textbooks in order to fund other areas of the public education budget).

Rather than address persistent underinvestment and seize opportunities to support a stronger economy, state lawmakers will allow another round of corporate tax cuts to go into effect – reducing annual revenue by $100 million in the first year, $350 million the second year, and more than $500 million in subsequent years.

Revenue lost just from these additional corporate tax cuts, which state leaders seem unwilling to debate, could provide funding for much-needed public services that strengthen our communities and the state’s economy. Read More

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

Members of the Kansas Center for Economic Growth are visiting North Carolina this week to share what has happened in Kansas following massive tax cuts signed into law by Governor Brownback back in 2012. Kansas has become a case study of the grave consequences resulting from a dogged pursuit of tax cuts as an economic growth strategy. The results are not that good.

In 2012, Kansas enacted tax cuts that were considered among the largest ever enacted by any state. Tax cut proponents in other states – including North Carolina state lawmakers – held Kansas up as a model to be replicated. Accordingly, North Carolina state lawmakers followed Kansas’ path and passed huge income tax cuts in 2013 that largely benefited the wealthy and profitable corporations and significantly reduced available revenue for public investments.

For Kansas, the reality in the wake of the costly tax cuts has been nothing to write home about. Here are some low-lights of Kansas’ experience, accordingly to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

  • Deep income tax cuts caused large revenue losses. Kansas’ tax cuts last year cost the state more than 10 percent of the revenue it uses to fund schools, health care, and other public services, a hit comparable to a mid-sized recession. The revenue loss is expected to rise to 16 percent in five years if the tax cuts are not reversed.
  • The tax cuts delivered lopsided benefits to the wealthy. Kansas’ tax cuts didn’t benefit everyone. Most of the benefits went to high-income households and taxes were even raised for low-income families to offset a portion of the revenue loss.
  • Kansas’ tax cuts haven’t boosted its economy. Since the tax cuts took effect at the beginning of 2013, Kansas has added jobs at a pace modestly slower than the country as a whole. Furthermore, the earnings and incomes of Kansans have performed slightly worse than the U.S. as a whole as well while the number of registered business grew more slowly in 2013 than in 2012.

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NC Budget and Tax Center

The ongoing, raging debate at the federal level regarding tax changes highlights the contrast between the proposals being put forward by President Obama and Congress for developing a budget and supporting the economy. The President would like to provide tax cuts to middle-income taxpayers – by enhancing the Child Care Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit, for example. Congress, by contrast, would like to repeal the federal estate tax, for example, which would benefit the wealthy.

The estate tax is essentially a tax on very large inheritances by a small group of wealthy heirs. An estate must have a value of $5.4 million (after related debt is accounted for) before the estate tax applies. Only the estates of the wealthiest 0.2 percent of Americans – roughly 2 out of every 1,000 people who die – owe any estate tax.

A repeal of the estate tax amounts to a massive windfall for those heirs. Proponents often claim that the estate tax hurts small farmers and businesses by forcing people to sell their family farm or business. In North Carolina we have heard this claim despite no evidence presented to support the claim. Still, proponents have continued to make the claim over the years, as Dean Baker at the Center for Economic and Policy Research notes. In the early 2000s, the American Farm Bureau Federation, a leading advocate for repealing the estate tax, could not cite a single example of a farm lost because of estate taxes.

North Carolina state lawmakers latched onto this false claim back in 2013 to repeal the state’s estate tax. Read More

Commentary, NC Budget and Tax Center, Raising the Bar 2015

Editor’s note: The following post by Jeremy Sprinkle, communications director at the NC State AFL-CIO, is the latest installment in “Raising the Bar” — a new series of essays and blog posts authored by North Carolina leaders highlighting ways in which North Carolina public investments are falling short and where and how they can be improved. 

No one wants North Carolina to have a strong economy more than its workers, who want to be able to work and to earn enough to support their families. Our state budget includes vital investments in supporting our current and future workforce, for example through workforce development, re-employment support and early childhood education, and our K-12 public school system. We know that making investments in these areas ultimately benefits all workers, families and our economy.

Unfortunately, legislative leadership in North Carolina has not pursued a path of investing in our workers and future workforce, but instead implemented a costly tax plan passed in 2013 that bleeds the state of much needed revenue for workforce development and training and innovative, proven initiatives that would create good-paying jobs in our state. The plan they passed gave big tax cuts mostly to profitable corporations and individuals at the very top of the income scale. Legislators based the pursuit of this strategy on a theory that tax cuts lead to higher job creation. However prior experience and research tells us that tax cuts don’t create jobs and they don’t grow the economy.

The 2013 tax cuts haven’t fixed the labor market despite disproportionately going to so-called “job creators” – the wealthiest North Carolinians and profitable major corporations.

As billionaire venture capitalist Nick Hanauer has said, if it was true that tax cuts for the rich created jobs, we would be drowning in jobs — but we’re not.

There are more people looking for work today than before the recession, and many of the jobs out there are low-wage jobs that don’t pay enough to support families or to reverse the decline of our middle class.

In fact, adjusting for inflation, an hour’s work today actually buys less than it did in 2007. Another tax cut isn’t going to fix that.

The way to raise wages and fix the labor market is by investing in our workforce and by empowering more workers to engage in collective bargaining to turn low-wage jobs into good jobs.

Policymakers have for too long asked working families to pay more and settle for less.

The 2013 tax cuts for the wealthy forced the state to slash programs that would have helped workers recover from the recession and rebuild their lives.

Workforce development, reemployment services, child care subsidies, and the Earned Income Tax Credit have all been cut or eliminated. Meanwhile, the cost of job training at community colleges or of pursuing a higher education is more expensive than ever.

Workers are consumers, and that makes us the real job creators in our economy. There aren’t enough wealthy people to make up for the declining buying power of North Carolina’s workers, and another tax cut for the rich won’t change that.

If lawmakers want to create jobs, they need to invest in workers, and investment takes revenue, revenue that is lost by cutting taxes.

And if they want to do something meaningful to put more money into workers’ pockets, they’d be better off encouraging workers to form unions and bargain collectively than by doubling down on the failed ideology that tax cuts are some sort of cure-all that past experience and common sense tell us just isn’t true.