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NC Budget and Tax Center

On Wednesday, the Senate Finance committee heard presentations that made the case for more changes to the state’s tax code. While beginning with many of the economic realities in North Carolina—stagnant and falling wages, persistently high poverty, and slow growth— the presentation prescribes the wrong medicine: more cuts to the income tax in favor of applying the sales tax to more goods and services.

It’s a surprising conclusion to reach as prior “reform” efforts based on income tax cuts for the wealthy and profitable corporations have not allowed North Carolina to invest in the state’s economic recovery. It’s even worse with evidence mounting that shifting more of the tax load onto average people is causing real damage.

It’s clear that more tax cuts for the wealthy and profitable corporations aren’t the best tools to address the economic issues highlighted in the presentation. Tax cuts do nothing to address the fact that workers aren’t seeing their wages grow, despite increasing productivity. Tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy and profitable corporations do not help alleviate poverty. Instead, such an approach jeopardizes the ability of the state to invest in pathways to opportunity—the schools, research and development, and business start-ups that create a vibrant economy.

We have long advocated for tax reform, and a genuine and thoughtful plan to modernize our tax code is still needed today – not in spite of 2013 tax changes, but because of them. But shifting the state away from the income tax to rely more on sales taxes, as the leadership presented yesterday, will make things worse, not better. It will not help address the ups and downs in revenue collections and will mean that everyday North Carolinians carry more of the tax load while wealthy taxpayers get a tax cut. This is especially true if such tax shifts don’t seek to offset a greater reliance on sales tax with a strong state EITC.

Here is what should be the focus of legislators’ reform efforts: Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

State legislative leaders said tax plan changes were supposed to help most North Carolinians, while groups like the Budget & Tax Center cast skepticism at those claims, predicting that the average North Carolinians would see their share of the tax load increase as the richest in the state enjoyed tax breaks.

So what happened in your household? Did you see your state income taxes go up or down this year? How did it affect your family finances? Was the change worth the broader impact on your community and public services?

We want to hear from North Carolinians filing their taxes or preparing taxes for others. With the new Policy Watch feature Your Soapbox — The Tax Shift, we’re hoping to lift up the stories of those who have been most affected by the tax changes and what that means for their quality of life, their communities and public services. We are already hearing personal stories from people and their families who stand to be affected by the tax shift. One North Carolinian writes:

I am paying almost as much to the state in income taxes as I do to the federal government. For what? All I hear about is the state cutting services like unemployment, etc., for people like myself in the lower end of the economic scale. What I am getting for my tax dollar, exactly, except more grief?

Others are already seeing massive increases in their North Carolina income taxes. One family saw a whopping 564% increase between 2013 and 2014; instead of owing $251, this year they owe $1,415.00.

My (Stroke Victim) And my wife’s (Asthmatic) medical expenses for 2014 averaged $952.92. Medical expenses were not allowed as a deduction on the 2014 NC SIT [state income tax].

The NC Legislature also eliminated the Personal Exemption of $2,500 per person. Our income from Pensions, Social Security, and small investments increased 1.034% from 2013 to 2014. We have been significantly impacted by the 2014 SIT changes and definitely were not considered by Governor McCrory at the signing of the Bill when he stated “Everyone will benefit some from this bill.”

This is just the beginning of what will be likely be a widespread impact of the tax plan, one that will be felt by North Carolinians from across the state and from all walks of life.

Share your story using the submission form here. If you have photos, videos or other media you would like to include, please email them to Julia Hawes at julia@ncjustice.org.

NC Budget and Tax Center

State lawmakers are targeting cash-strapped homeowners as they continue to pursue tax changes that would shift even more of the tax load to low- and middle-income taxpayers, while preserving tax benefits that have largely flowed to the wealthy and profitable corporations.

Legislation approved by the state Senate (Senate Bill 20) would require homeowners to pay state income tax on mortgage debt forgiven by lenders. Meanwhile, financial institutions that provide such consumer relief are allowed to deduct the expense as a tax write-off.

The proposal would undermine a key element of North Carolina’s recovery from the nationwide housing crisis that fueled the Great Recession. In the wake of the crisis, a number of financial institutions  agreed to  settlements that provide consumers relief for unaffordable mortgages. This often meant reducing the amount of principal debt they owed on their mortgages to make them more affordable and lessen the likelihood of foreclosure. Furthermore, the 49-state National Mortgage Settlement encourages mortgage servicers to provide such relief to distressed borrowers affected by the housing crisis.

The goal of these settlements is to ensure that homeowners who were preyed upon by unethical lenders do not fall into the financial tailspin that foreclosure often creates. The tax change proposed by the Senate would require cash-strapped homeowners who have already suffered from the disastrous housing crisis and economic downturn to report this debt forgiveness as income, even though no actual cash is provided to the homeowners.

This could deter families from accepting bank offers to modify their mortgage loans because they cannot afford to pay taxes on the amount of relief they get. Distressed homeowners seeking to stabilize their finances and rebuild in the wake of the housing crisis would face a major setback. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

The latest Who Pays? report released today by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) takes a look at the fairness of state tax systems. For North Carolina, the lowest income North Carolinians pay over 70 percent more in state and local taxes as a share of their income compared to the state’s wealthiest residents, the ITEP report highlights.

The lowest 20 percent of North Carolinians – with an average income of $10,700 – pay 9.2 percent of their income in state and local taxes, the study finds, compared to 5.3 percent for the top 1 percent, the average income for this group is $969,100.

North Carolina’s unfair tax system presents both short- and long-term challenges and concerns. The state’s unfair tax system not only contributes to widening income inequality in the short term, but also leaves the state struggling to raise adequate revenue for public investments in the long term, ITEP notes. These realities are already playing out in the North Carolina. As state lawmakers return to Raleigh this week for the 2015 legislative session they face an ongoing revenue shortfall as a result of tax cuts passed in 2013.

North Carolina has moved away from many features that create a fairer tax system. State lawmakers replaced a graduated personal income tax rate structure (meaning the higher one’s income, the higher one’s effective personal income tax rate) with a flat rate that doesn’t take into account a taxpayer’s ability to pay, allowed the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit to expire, expanded the sales tax base, and allowed the corporate income tax rate to be cut from 6.9 to 5 percent and potentially as low as 3 percent.

These changes have resulted in a sizable reduction in revenue, with the state now challenged with funding basic public obligations such as education and healthcare services for the elderly and poor. Returning to a graduated income tax rate structure, reestablishing a state Earned Income Tax Credit, creating a renter’s credit or an enhanced and refundable Child Tax Credit, and stopping further tax cuts that largely benefit the wealthy and profitable corporations are important opportunities to create a fairer state tax code.

A state tax code that works for all North Carolina taxpayers is important for ensuring that economic opportunity and prosperity is broadly shared. The Who Pays? report highlights that there is work to be done to make this a reality.

Commentary, NC Budget and Tax Center

The ballooning cost of recent state tax cuts is one of the key stories of 2014. While state leaders argued over how to pay for increasing teacher salaries, it was easy to forget that the 2013 tax cut package was a huge part of the reason that funds were so hard to come by. The 2013 tax cuts, which largely went to the wealthiest North Carolinians, are forcing us to make unnecessary choices between funding schools or roads, healthcare or economic development, local governments or state services. It didn’t have to be this way and, as the charts presented here clearly show, the costs of the 2013 tax cuts are becoming increasingly clear.

Many proponents argued that the 2013 tax cuts would stimulate new economic growth and, as a result, the cost of reducing rates would be largely offset because there would be more economic activity to tax. The idea that tax cuts will actually increase revenue is based on a simple intuition popularized by Art Laffer. Laffer’s thought experiment holds that lowering the cost of doing business will cause people to invest and spend more, so the total economy will grow, which will ultimately result in government collecting more revenue. Like many exercises in theoretical economics, the “Laffer Curve” is just a mathematical equation. It looks nice on a napkin, and has an pleasantly simple logic, but the real world is often allergic to this kind of treatment and refuses to behave as theorists’ models expect. Unfortunately, the consequences of putting faith in the Laffer Curve are anything but theoretical. As this economic experiment on North Carolina continues, the results are not looking good for the subject.

2014 End of Year Charts_tax cuts dig a hole

While sober analysis always showed that the 2013 tax cuts would reduce revenues, the hole keeps getting deeper every time we look at it. As can be seen in the chart above, initial estimates projected a roughly $500 million reduction in state tax revenues for the 2014-15 fiscal year. Estimates released this month have the cost rising to almost $900 million and, according to our analysis, the bill could top $1 billion. Thus far this fiscal year, actual tax collections have been lower than was expected even with the cost of the tax cut included. The December state revenue update shows that we are $190 million short of projections. We will know the real fiscal impact after sales taxes from the Christmas shopping season known and income tax returns are filed next year, but all indications to date are that the 2013 cuts will blow an enormous hole in current and future state budgets.

2014 End of Year Charts_underfund the recovery

The result of the ballooning revenue shortfall, is that state spending has not recovered to pre-recession levels. When the economy collapsed in 2008, it dramatically undermined state revenues, forcing a series of unusual measures to try to fill the gap. Under normal conditions, the return to positive economic growth brings in more revenue, allowing departments and divisions in state government to address needs they had put off during the squeeze. As can be seen above, this is the pattern for each of the last three recessions dating back to the early 1980’s. Each recession initially forced North Carolina to spend less than was anticipated when revenues fell, but spending bounced back within a few years allowing North Carolina to get back to business. Policy choices in the recent recovery are a departure from previous budgetary practice. We have usually seen reduced state spending during the initial downturn, followed by accelerated investing during the recovery to make up for lost ground and restore the state’s public service infrastructure. We are seven years removed from the onset of the Great Recession and, because of the 2013 tax cuts, state revenues remain roughly 10 percent below their pre-recession levels.

All of this means undercutting the future of North Carolina. The state still has a backlog of expenditures that were put off during the recession, positions unfilled, buildings overdue for repair, roads and bridges that need fixing or expanding, local governments who have lost state support for key services, and much more. We also face an increasingly competitive global marketplace. Many of the people who lost their jobs during the recession still need help retooling their skills and the challenge of preparing children to survive in the 21st century economy keeps getting more complex. As the legislative session gets started in 2015, remember that the choice to reduce taxes on the most fortunate among us is a major reason that key investments for the rest of North Carolina are not being made.