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North Carolinians are being dealt a bad hand. The deep revenue losses resulting from the 2013 tax plan is creating a reality in which there are too few dollars available to meet the needs of children, families, and communities. Budget writers are facing a self-imposed budget crisis and finding it difficult to agree on just how large the cut to public schools and public health should be to meet its priorities and balance the budget. To be clear, budget writers agree that those core budget areas should be cut compared to the enacted 2015 fiscal year budget but have yet to agree on the size of the cut.

That’s the main reason why North Carolina is more than two weeks into the new fiscal year without a revised state budget.

For weeks budget negotiators in the House and Senate have been shuffling the deck, making proposed cuts in core areas of the budget and moving that money around in order to finance much-needed pay raises. This budget shuffle is further proof the state is facing a revenue problem. Read More

From poverty to job creation, North Carolina has been slow to bounce back from the Great Recession on the economic front. The storyline is much the same when it comes to tax collections. North Carolina’s tax revenues at the end of 2013 were lower than its previous peak that occured just prior to the economic downturn, according to new data released by the Pew Center on the States.

These findings fail to signal an economic comeback. In fact, they illustrate that there is a considerable amount of lost ground to regain even as state revenues are projected to slowly pick up as the economy grows stronger. Catching up will be all that much more difficult due to lawmakers’ decision to pass a costly and lopsided tax plan last year that primarily benefits the wealthy and profitable corporations.

State revenues were down 4.5 percent, or $287.4 million, in the last quarter of 2013 compared to the state’s previous peak quarter that occurred in the third quarter of 2007—just before the onset of the Great Recession. Note, this was under the old tax code. See the figure below. North Carolina fared better on this measure compared to all of its southern neighbors except for Tennessee and only 19 states in total. For the states that experienced a recovery to peak revenue levels by the end of 2013, more than half of them raised taxes to keep up with the growing demands of a growing population.   Read More

This afternoon, Governor McCrory released his $20.99 billion 2015 fiscal year budget for the period that runs from July 2014 to June 2015. His proposal creates more problems than it solves, failing to take prudent steps that would put North Carolina’s budget on a more sustainable path. Similar to his budget proposal last year, his new spending proposal follows suit and fails to catch up—let alone keep up—with the needs of kids, working families and communities in many areas of the budget.

The Governor’s budget was constrained in major ways—which were self-imposed by state lawmakers last year when they decided to cut taxes. The state is facing a revenue shortfall of $191 million in the 2015 fiscal year (not to be confused with the nearly half-a-billion shortfall for the current 2014 fiscal year that ends in June). The driver of these revenue shortfalls—despite an economic recovery—is the series of tax cuts that Governor McCrory signed into law last year that was already estimated to drain available revenues to the tune of $437.8 million in the 2015 fiscal year.

As we reported last week, estimates suggest that the revenue losses from the tax plan, particularly stemming from the personal income tax changes, could reach $600 million next fiscal year.

Yet, rather than prudently recommending the halting of future tax cuts that are scheduled to go into effect in January 2015, the Governor chose to keep this next round of tax cuts in place despite the diminished revenue picture. As we warned last year, North Carolina cannot afford to pay for tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy and profitable corporations at the expense of teacher layoffs, growing waiting lists for critical public services, and higher tuition rates.

State spending under the Governor’s proposal would continue to remain well below pre-recession levels, as illustrated in the chart below, even though spending over the base budget would slightly increase. All areas of education funding fall short of what was called for in the continuation budget. Tax cuts are making it harder to regain lost ground. Read More

When state policymakers convene next week for the 2014 legislative session the budget debate will likely be at center stage. The most recent consensus revenue forecast signal that boosting investment in critical public services will not be an option unless state policymakers take a new direction.

Today, the Budget & Tax Center released a report that highlights opportunities for legislators to begin bolstering investments in various areas of the state budget that help create pathways to the middle class, strengthen communities across the state, and alleviate the economic struggles of North Carolina families. These opportunities include boosting investments in education, workforce development initiatives, safe and healthy communities, and environmental protection.

The BTC report also highlights the significant challenge that legislators face if they choose to seize this opportunity to change the state’s direction and boost investments in North Carolina’s future. The tax plan enacted by policymakers last year reduces the amount of revenue for public investments in the years ahead. When policymakers return to Raleigh next week, they will have to address a budget gap of $335 million as a result of a forecasted revenue shortfall for the current fiscal year and a Medicaid shortfall.

The budget challenge continues beyond this fiscal year. Next year, state policymakers look to face a budget gap of at least $228 million according to the consensus revenue estimate. This budget gap, however, could reach as high as $637 million based on cost estimates that identify higher costs for the personal income tax changes in last year’s tax plan.

The reality is that policymakers must revisit the tax plan in order to bolster schools, health care, and other things that help strengthen North Carolina’s economy. Under the inadequate tax system created last year, every year going forward, policymakers are likely to struggle to fund these needed supports to a strong economy.

Some underling and troubling trends are revealed in the Fiscal Research Division’s newly released third Quarterly General Fund Revenue Report, which provides an assessment of revenue for the state. Not much has changed since the Division’s second quarterly report. Both reports foreshadow some of the particular challenges of the new tax plan—namely the fact that tax rate reductions for profitable corporations will be big revenue losers for the state.

On net, the General Fund was $12.1 million above the $14.5 billion revenue target for the first-three quarters of the current fiscal year that ends in June 2014. This marks a reduction from the $83 million point-in-time “surplus” that accrued by the end of the second quarter. The gap could shrink even further by the end of the month depending on any volatility in revenue collections post-tax season—a factor dubbed as the “April Surprise.”

Revenue collections were ahead of target by the end of the third quarter largely due to stronger-than-expected performances by the sales tax and the corporate income tax on net. Read More