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Plans to finance both public education and transit at the local level would be stopped in their tracks under HB 1224 that passed the state Senate Finance Committee yesterday. The bill not only places a hard cap on the local sales tax rate at 2.5 percent but also only allows counties to levy a sales tax increase for either education or transit—not both.  This bill joins a slate of other bills that would restrict local control. The full Senate is scheduled to vote on the bill Monday night.

In effect, the bill restricts local governments’ authority to meet local needs and balance their budgets. Importantly, the bill is aimed at shifting the responsibility of funding public education away from the state and towards local governments. The state clearly cannot afford last year’s tax plan and now legislators are proposing budgets that would make serious cuts to public education as a result. Those cuts would have to be absorbed by children in the classroom or addressed at the local level, putting local governments in a tough spot having to choose whether or not to make up the difference via a local tax.

Local governments are dealing with the fallout from last year’s tax plan in other ways too. They no longer have access to the school Capital Building Fund, which received a portion of revenue generated from the state corporate income tax. Schools used this fund to help them meet their education obligations, as my colleague explained last month. The result is a $382 million dent over the next five years. This loss is on top of the looming $63 million-annual dent resulting from elimination of the local privilege tax in 2015. Read More

If you work hard and play by the rules, you deserve a chance to get ahead. This is why the Earned Income Tax Credit was invented: to help families with low-paying jobs make ends meet.

Unfortunately, North Carolina is the first state in 30 years to eliminate its Earned Income Tax Credit. This move abandoned a bunch of our neighbors, people with stories like Kara’s:

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There is no more stark illustration of why tax policy matters. With NC job growth coming primarily in low-wage industries, we’re going to need the Earned Income Tax Credit — and other measures that work for working people — more than ever.

 

On Wednesday evening, the North Carolina Senate unveiled its $21.16 billion budget proposal for the 2015 fiscal year that begins in June 2014 and ends in July 2015. The Senate leadership decided to put the budget on a fast track to approval, bypassing the appropriations subcommittee process and scheduling the final debate to begin today at 4pm into early Saturday morning.

Even when lawmakers have an adequate amount of time to review the full budget proposal—and to be clear, in this case, an adequate amount of time was not allowed—budget debates tend to spend a majority of the time on the spending side. Yet, how the state raises the billions of dollars that fuel the state budget gets relatively little scrutiny compared to the rest of the budget during the budget process.

Examining how the Senate pays for its budget is more important than ever in light of last year’s tax plan that drains $438 million from the state’s coffers in the upcoming fiscal year. This is on top of the fact that lawmakers are facing a current year revenue shortfall, a projected revenue shortfall for the next 2015 fiscal year, and a Medicaid shortfall. Read More

A final vote is expected in the House Wednesday on a package of tax changes that would among other things place a new tax on e-cigarettes.

Bill backers say the levy  – 5 cents per milliliter of liquid – has the support of the tobacco industry. But Mecklenburg County Democrat Rep. Becky Carney urged her colleagues to pull the e-cigarette portion out of the omnibus tax bill and allow for further debate.

Carney argued that the nickel tax was well-below the 45-cent-per-pack tax on traditional cigarettes.

“If we’re going to tax something, are we doing it to our greatest advantage? Yeah, a nickel is great for the industry, of course,  that’s low. But what about those revenues in North Carolina that we potentially will lose and that we could bring in?” said Rep. Carney.

“I think we’ve kicked the tobacco industry around enough, maybe we owe them a little deference,” countered Cabarrus County Republican Rep. Larry Pittman.

Orange County Rep. Verla Insko also argued that the level of this new tax and the impact on teenage smokers warranted further discussion.

Carney’s amendment ultimately failed Tuesday, keeping the e-cigarette measure as part of the broader tax bill.

One more vote and the bill heads to the Senate. To hear a portion of Tuesday’s debate on House Bill 1050, click below. To learn more about the FDA’s take on e-cigarettes, click here.

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When making important decisions, people have a right to the best possible information. Facts, not ideology, should drive our policy agendas. This is especially true on budget and tax issues, which affect everyone in North Carolina.

Unfortunately, John Hood’s recent column on the NC General Assembly’s tax changes is replete with bad information. Warning: some wonky details follow.

The Budget & Tax Center uses rigorous methods and accurate modeling strategies that are endorsed and used throughout the economic forecasting industry – including by conservative and centrist groups.

Here’s the thing about making tax changes: there will always be winners and losers.  That’s why it takes careful thought, engagement of a diverse set of stakeholders and consideration of a range of data points and methods. Efforts to establish a reasonable estimate of what will happen as a result of the plan will always be estimates, but policymakers should have the best information available to them as to the direction and magnitude of the impact of their decision.

In the current tax debate, policymakers had two separate types of analysis at their disposal.

  • The sample taxpayer scenarios developed by the state’s Fiscal Research Division. This gives examples of how particular taxpayers will fare under tax changes.  These can be fine tools, but are inherently limited. They pick out particular taxpayers and can’t show you that everyone – or even most people — will have the same experience. The results can’t be extended to everyone in particular filing types, and certainly not­­ to the population at large.

Using this tool alone, as tax plan backers did, is like trying to fix your car using only a screwdriver. Yet even using this limited tool shows that proponents’ claims that everyone will benefit from tax changes is flatly false. That’s right, according to non-partisan Fiscal Research, and even according to the conservative Tax Foundation, there will be taxpayers who pay more under the tax plan.

  • The other type of tool that policymakers could use was an economic incidence model, like the kind that the Joint Committee on Taxation uses, that has been developed by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. The Budget & Tax Center used this model to provide population-level estimates of the impact of tax changes. This is a far better tool than the limited sample scenarios, since it provides an overall summary of the experience of all taxpayers.

Analysis showed that the bottom 80 percent of taxpayers would experience a tax increase on average.  The findings take into account the rough swap of electricity and natural gas from the gross receipts franchise tax to the sales tax, as well as the privilege tax changes for amusements. The findings take into account a household’s total income in order to reflect ability to pay the tax.  The findings also take into account the base broadening of the sales tax.

The model is consistent with real-world experience. First, consumers will pay more indirectly because of changes businesses make to their prices to accommodate for the sales tax changes. The Council on State Taxation — not a group one would call a bastion of progressive views — finds that 40 percent of total sales tax collections are paid by businesses. Second, multi-state, profitable businesses — the bulk of corporate income taxpayers — are going to pass their tax cut on to shareholders, not workers. Those shareholders are very unlikely to all be North Carolinians, meaning that money will flow out of our state.

Record corporate profits have not translated into higher wages for the past thirty years, so why would we assume that a corporate income tax cut is going to all of a sudden give corporations a change of heart and decide to boost their workers’ wages?

In desperation, proponents often turn to the argument that this is going to create jobs.  But not only is there no economic consensus that this is a good strategy for growth, states that have tried it have not seen the promised employment expansion – though they have seen high incidence of poverty. We can’t import the oil production capacity of Texas or the coal mines of Tennessee, so why should we import their model that drives poverty through the roof?

When we juxtapose these two decisions — huge tax cuts for the wealthy versus a “just wait, it’ll all work out” message for working families – we can see the human cost of a serious policy mistake. Pretending that economic evidence supports these choices just compounds that serious mistake.