NC Budget and Tax Center

Another Policy Proposal Ignores Reality of Today’s Job Market

Leaders in the General Assembly appear poised to take health care away from parents with low income through a change to Medicaid,  and they plan to do it using a budget process where no amendments can be offered.

The change would likely take the form of what some other states have proposed, requiring a certain number of hours each month in order to maintain health care access.  This plan ignores the reality facing more and more working North Carolinians who don’t control their schedules and are often at the mercy of economic forces beyond their control.

For this reason, and given what we know about what has happened when implemented in other areas, rigid work requirements will not deliver on the intended goal of increasing employment.  Indeed, researchers have documented the ways in which this could actually reduce employment in the long-term and grow poverty.  It may also be too harsh to receive federal approval.

Here are key facts about today’s labor market that legislators should consider as they seek to take health care away from parents with low income:

  1. There are too few jobs for those who want to work. Despite the state’s employment growth since the national recovery began in 2009,  there are still 87 counties where there are more jobless workers than job openings. In many communities, finding work is still a challenge, regardless of whether elected leaders in Raleigh accept that fact or not.
  2. Work is increasingly unstable resulting in a lack of consistent work hours each month. Research by the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities finds that of low-income adults who have worked in the past year, at least 1 in 4 have less than 80 hours of work in at least month.  This threshold is the one used by Kansas to determine eligibility on a month by month basis and failure to meet it means the loss of health insurance for a period. The issue of unpredictable hours is prevalent in the labor market and has created increased income volatility and economic hardship.
  3. Temporary and contingent work means despite working in a year, many workers face unpredictable employment. Temporary work has grown by 52 percent in North Carolina compared to 32 percent growth in the national economy.  Temp workers in North Carolina earn well below the national average. Temporary workers have little control over how many hours they work in a given month, which could put their healthcare coverage at risk through no fault of their own.
  4. Work at minimum wage doesn’t pay enough to make ends meet. A minimum age worker in North Carolina with one child who works just below the 80 hour a month threshold or 20 hours a week would qualify for Medicaid.  The annual income limit for Medicaid is 43 percent of the Federal Poverty level for an adult.
  5. Our labor market depends on public policies that make sure people can get by in low-wage work. One in five North Carolinians can’t afford to make ends meet in North Carolina based on work alone.  Food assistance and housing support, health insurance and child care subsidies aim to ensure people meet their basic needs and stay connected to the workforce.  Restricting access to these supports hurts employment outcomes and the well-being of families.  It also creates the wrong incentives by creating “cliffs” for working people where adding hours and income push them out of eligibility without ensuring that they can secure the needed benefit through work.  This is clear in North Carolina where those receiving Medicaid who could be subject to a new requirement to work a certain number of hours in the month and can’t meet it would be pushed into the coverage gap.  As a non-expansion state, North Carolina would be driving people out of a pathway to self-sufficiency.

On the heels of hundreds of business leaders, workers and advocates gathered in Raleigh on Tuesday to ask legislators to raise the state’s minimum wage from the current federal level of $7.25, it is clear our legislative leaders continue to miss the opportunity to advance policies that address the most pressing issues in today’s labor market.

Now they could consider a policy proposal that would actually make things worse for North Carolinians.

Let’s hope they reject including work requirements in the budget bill and taking health care away from low-income parents.

NC Budget and Tax Center, Uncategorized

Governor Cooper recognizes North Carolina is in a hole, stops digging

Governor Cooper released a proposed budget for 2018-19 that takes an important, though modest, first step in reversing the state’s failed tax cut experiment. The Governor proposed freezing corporate income tax rates at 3 percent rather than allowing them to drop again in January 2019, while also stopping personal income tax rate cuts on higher incomes.

Combined, this fiscally responsible approach will ensure $110 million is available in 2018-19 for public investments in areas that have immediate needs. Over the full Fiscal Year, the result will be an estimated $223 million in revenue available. Even more work will be required to undo the years of cuts that have been the priority of North Carolina’s General Assembly.

The hole we are in is deep.

This prudent first step in this year’s budget process demonstrates, however, what is possible when leaders put public investments before tax cuts. The Governor’s budget invests in a number of priorities in communities across the state, including increasing the number of school nurses and psychologists, funding classrooms, ensuring the Department of Environmental Quality gets the funding it needs to monitor air and water quality, and funding the transition of young people to the juvenile justice system under the Raise the Age proposal, among others.

There is no doubt that the damage of cutting tax cuts to our public institutions and communities has been years in the making and a more thorough adjustment from the tax-cutting approach will be required.

That should not diminish the importance of Governor Cooper’s recognition  that the first step when realizing you are in a hole is to stop digging.  Let’s hope the General Assembly follows suit.

Who pays? Read more

NC Budget and Tax Center

North Carolina’s tax code isn’t meeting the state’s needs, will continue to fall short

Leaders in the General Assembly responded to the consensus revenue forecast with a promise to continue with the tax cuts that have hampered our states ability to fund classrooms, support rural economic development and strengthen the economy for the long-term.

The tax cuts that are scheduled for January 2019 will reduce annual revenue by $900 million in a full fiscal year.  But because the new tax cuts start in the second half of the second year of the two-year budget, lawmakers were not required to account for roughly $400 million of the annual cost of the tax cuts. Leaders put together a state budget for the second year that only accounts for $521 million in revenue losses from cutting the rate of taxes paid by corporations on their profits to 2.5 percent and further lowering the state’s flat personal income tax rate to 5.25 percent.

Leaders claim that the announcement of an over-collection—a mere 1 .5 percent—of the state budget merits staying the course.  Even with that announcement of dollars above what was expected, however, North Carolina will not have a tax code that keeps up with meeting the needs of a growing population with diverse needs. Read more

NC Budget and Tax Center

Three important ways in which President Trump’s proposed budget shifts costs to North Carolina

On the heels of a federal tax plan that provides tax breaks to the wealthy, foreign investors and profitable corporations, President Trump has released a budget that will make it more difficult for people to get back to work and strengthen their quality of life and ensure thriving communities.

It is unlikely that North Carolina will be able to absorb these federal cuts and, in so doing, ensure that North Carolinians aren’t hurt by them.

North Carolina has scheduled another $900 million in tax cuts to begin on Jan. 1, 2019, and already has identified the need to prioritize class-size reductions, pre-Kindergarten for 4-year-olds, and ensure seniors have health care and food, among others.  Additional needs generated by the failure of the President and Congress to truly connect people to opportunity will not be met with resources under the current tax code.

Here are just three ways in which the President’s budget will push costs to the states: Read more

Education, NC Budget and Tax Center

Class-size reduction funding will remain uncertain with scheduled tax cuts

The NC General Assembly moved forward a proposal this week to address their unfunded mandate to reduce class sizes in Kindergarten through 3rd grade.

Its problems aren’t just its inclusion of various non-educational items irrelevant to the class-size debate, but also its failure to acknowledge that an adequate tax code will be required in order to fund the class-size reductions beyond Fiscal Year 2019-20.

Rather than putting a stop to the scheduled tax cuts that will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2019, the NC General Assembly’s plan is to allocate unappropriated balances at year-end in the next year and hope for available revenue in years past 2019.

That is another risky bet for North Carolina’s children and communities.

The sure thing would have been to stop the January 2019 tax cuts, which in a full fiscal year would mean an estimated $900 million to pay to reduce class sizes and make other investments in children’s educational success, such as funding NC Pre-K and addressing the school nurse shortage.

As it stands, reductions of just $400 million are planned for in the final budget passed this summer.

This means that it is unlikely that the revenue necessary to fund the class-size mandate will materialize without cuts to other investments in children and families.

A true commitment to our children’s educational success would put their well-being ahead of tax cuts.