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NC Budget and Tax Center

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.

NC Budget and Tax Center

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

NC Budget and Tax Center, Poverty and Policy Matters

North Carolina has the 10th highest poverty rate in the nation—down from 13th last year—with more than 1 in 4 of its children living below the federal poverty line. Our state also faces widespread income inequality and less economic mobility than the nation and the southeastern region. Rather than pursue a mix of tax and budget policies that boosts economic security for middle-class and low-income families, state lawmakers instead enacted a tax plan that shifts taxes away from the wealthy and towards the bottom 80 percent of taxpayers, on average.

The tax plan drains $525 million in available revenue for public investments over the next two years—a figure that balloons to at least $650 million within five years.

Consider what could have been done to help improve a child’s shot at the American Dream if state lawmakers didn’t choose to cut taxes for the wealthy and profitable corporations. Over the next two years, these dollars could have been used to provide a package of poverty-busting and mobility-lifting investments such as:

  • Eliminating the waiting list for the North Caroline pre-Kindergarten program;
  • Keeping and strengthening the state Earned Income Tax Credit, which helps boost the income of families who work in low-wage jobs;
  • Maintaining the income tax deduction for contributions to North Carolina’s 529 college savings plans (which was eliminated in the tax plan); and
  • Maintaining funding for the 10 nonprofits that promote economic development in economically lagging and distressed communities across the state – these entities include the Institute of Minority Economic Development and its Women’s Business Center

Despite lawmakers’ assertions, academic research simply lacks consensus on whether cutting taxes is an effective strategy for boosting the state’s economy and creating more jobs.  However, an established and growing body of research exists that show the value of public investments, which serve as the building blocks of a strong economy and family economic security. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

The second Quarterly General Fund Revenue Report from the Fiscal Research Division of the NC General Assembly reveals some underlying and troubling trends in the economy. It also foreshadows some of the particular challenges of the new tax plan—namely the tax rate reductions for profitable corporations.

On net, the General Fund was $83.5 million above the $10.02 billion revenue target for the first-half of the current fiscal year that ends in June. Revenue collections were ahead of target largely due to a “stronger-than-expected” performance by the corporate income tax. As the economy has slowly improved, corporate profits have been on an upward trend. Collections from the corporate income tax were ahead of target by nearly $90 million.

The new tax plan, however, diminishes the ability of corporate income tax collections to contribute to public investments and support revenue recovery after a downturn in the future. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

Businesses in North Carolina have been instructed by the state Department of Revenue to have their employees complete a new NC-4 tax form and workers and employers may be unclear as to why this is required. The simple answer is that the tax plan signed into law by Gov. McCrory means taxpayers will be paying more or less in NC personal income taxes starting next year.

Employers in the state are required by law to withhold a portion of their employees’ wages, typically each pay period, for NC personal income taxes and the NC-4 form helps employers estimate the amount of taxes to withhold. The new NC-4 form attempts to ensure that no employee is stuck at the end of the year owing a lot in NC personal income taxes or is owed a large refund by the state as a result of employers continuing to withhold NC personal income taxes based on 2013 tax laws. Read More