JLF Research Archive
Showing items 176 to 200 of 211
Gov. Mike Easley's proposed budget adjustments for FY 2002-03 help to frame the coming fiscal debate in North Carolina. The plan relies primarily on increasing revenues — including more than $400 million in tax hikes, $250 million from a theoretical state lottery, and $210 million from raiding the state‘s Highway Trust Fund — rather than on budget savings. And contrary to the governor's assertion, his plan would increase state spending in the midst of a fiscal emergency.
With news of a worsening state budget and a weakened state economy, Locke Foundation analysts have updated last year's alternative budget with new projected savings and tax changes for FY 2002-03. The resulting Changing Course V budget would eliminate the deficit, repeal last year's hikes in sales and income taxes, stimulate the economy through additional tax relief and highway investment, and protect highpriority items such as public safety and classroom teachers.
In recent months, public officials have made a range of statements in an attempt to explain persistent state and local budget woes. Many of these assertions do not square with the facts. A collection of graphs and tables shows clearly that North Carolina government is out of line with neighboring states in spending, employment, and taxes. Moreover, revenue growth outpaced personal income growth during the 1990s, while debt service costs are projected to triple over 10 years.
According to state economists, North Carolina will face another budget deficit in FY 2001-02 of between $450 million and $900 million. The state's economy, weighted down by high taxes and poor public services, continues to lag behind the rest of the country. Unlike last year, policymakers cannot exempt such big-ticket items as Floyd relief, tobacco-settlement funds, universities, Medicaid, and bonds from scrutiny - and they should consider repealing last year's tax hikes.
Responding to Gov. Jim Hunt's call for $830 million in emergency hurricane relief, state lawmakers have nearly drained the state's rainy day fund. Calls for state tax hikes or a new borrowing binge have only been put off until the 2000 legislative session. But state leaders have no one to blame for the coming budget crisis but themselves. As national data reveal, North Carolina has hiked spending far more rapidly than the average state with little regard for the long-term impact.
A report released last week by the North Carolina Progress Board contained hundreds of long-term goals for the state. But the text was overshadowed by the comments of board member and UNC-W Chancellor James Leutze, who said the report showed North Carolina would never make it to the top tier of states without tax increases. Leutze's remarks were ill-timed and ill-informed but reflect the conventional wisdom about taxes and social progress. It’s wrong.
North Carolina's 1998-99 state budget grew by between 10 percent and 11 percent (depending on the measurement used) compared with the national average for state budget growth of only 5.4 percent. This follows a similar pattern last year. Growth in spending on Medicaid and education fueled North Carolina's exceptional budget increase. Overall, North Carolina spends more of its budget on education and correction, and less on Medicaid, than the average state. This mostly reflects differences in responsibilities given to local government.
Three new studies should give North Carolina policymakers pause about the state's current economic development policy. A Kenan Institute survey of international firms throws cold water on the notion that selective tax breaks for big business are an effective means of creating jobs. Along with two other reports, it suggests a different growth agenda: improve core public services such as roads and schools, tackle electricity restructuring, and reduce and reform taxes for everyone.
The lengthy budget negotiations between House and Senate this year resulted in a compromise that gave the Senate its spending priorities this year and the House its tax cuts in future years. Overall, when accounted for correctly, the state General Fund budget will top $13.1 billion in FY 1998-99, representing an 11 percent increase from last year. Spending growth outweighs tax cuts in FY 1998-99 by a ratio of 25 to 1 — but the picture improves somewhat in the out years, when House-sought cuts in sales and inheritance taxes are phased in.
Summary: The University of North Carolina Board of Governors has proposed a capital spending plan calling for nearly $5 billion over the next decade to modernize and expand the system. To pay for it, UNC wants the authority to raise funds by the issuance of two kinds of bonds that would not be subject to voter approval. While there is undeniable need to renovate academic buildings, taking care of the worst needs over the next four years would cost about $1.1 billion and could be handled through the existing budget process if repair and renovation were made the top university priority. The need for a large-scale construction program is dubious and does not require the use of non-voter-approved bonds.
State lawmakers will consider today a revised tax and spending plan for the 2001-03 biennium that promises to shove an already teetering economy, buffeted by layoffs and the prospect of war, into a full-blown and painful recession. Its massive tax hike will fuel a healthy increase in wasteful state spending and help to push the state’s tax burden well above that of Massachusetts, California, and all the Southeastern states — and higher than the national average for the first time.
Gov. Mike Easley and other proponents are reportedly preparing to resurrect the idea of a state lottery for North Carolina. The case for this regressive and unpredictable source of revenue has, if anything, weakened in recent months, as other states with lotteries have experienced significant revenue shortfalls. The fact remains that Easley is overestimating the lottery’s potential revenue, thus creating the risk of additional tax increases in the future to make up the difference.
A new plan from N.C. House Democrats to increase state and local taxes by another $633 million in FY 01-02 would further damage North Carolina's already weakening economy. If passed, the tax hikes would push North Carolina's tax burden higher than the national average for the first time in history, and 12 percent higher than the regional average. Our tax burden would far exceed those of such states as California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania.
A plan to increase North Carolina's sales tax by up to one penny, with a corresponding reduction in tax reimbursements to local governments, could endanger the state's economic recovery and threaten tens of thousands of jobs. No change in expected revenue growth or threat to the state's bond rating would have consequences severe enough to justify a $400 to $800 million tax hike on families and businesses whose tax burden is already the highest in the Southeast.
Budget negotiations between the House and Senate typically lead to higher spending, as each side accepts all or part of an item the other wants. Another approach would be to accept only spending common to both budgets, a "reverse logrolling" that lets government expand only when a consensus exists to do so. For FY 2000-01, this approach would save nearly $200 million for future state employee benefit reforms and raise operating spending by only 3.8 percent.
The North Carolina House is debating its version of a 2001-03 state budget this week. Although imposing only a $6 million tax hike in contrast to the $233 million tax increase included in the Senate budget House leaders still managed to increase General Fund spending by 4.4 percent in the coming fiscal year, relying on increased collections of delinquent taxes, interagency transfers, and debt-service savings to balance the books. Now the budget battle really begins.
State employees can't be blamed for seeking better compensation. All workers do. But to fulfill their responsibility to taxpayers, lawmakers should rely on solid data when evaluating pay requests. The vacancy rate in state government is highly exaggerated, for example, while the number of vacant jobs actually being advertised is shrinking rather than growing. Furthermore, national data suggest that N.C. state workers are competitively paid on average and cannot demonstrate the higher productivity that might justify higher pay levels.
Putting the House's FY 2000-01 budget into proper perspective requires careful consideration of how spending should be measured and how it has changed over time. Furthermore, proposed changes in how the payroll and teacher bonuses are budgeted are more than just accounting gimmicks. They represent a net reduction in state savings. The bottom line for taxpayers: if current trends continue, state leaders will be setting the stage for tax increases in the near future.
A recent report showing that many state university buildings are in very poor repair and warning of explosive UNC enrollment growth has led to a proposal that would allow the state and the university system itself to sell bonds without voter approval. There are strong reasons to doubt that this is the best way to solve the problem of building maintenance, and to consider redirecting existing funds and allowing more students to choose private colleges to reduce the pressure.
Some state lawmakers are discussing a plan to give local governments the authority to raise their sales taxes by up to 1 penny while simultaneously eliminating state tax reimbursements. While it is true that many counties are raising property taxes this year, most have not been starved for revenue during the 1990s. More importantly, the state can give the same assistance to localities without raising taxes by increasing flexibility and assuming more responsibility for Medicaid.
The FY 1999-2000 budget approved by the House Budget Committee would increase operating spending by 5.6 percent, despite talk earlier in the session of a state fiscal crisis. Although the budget does include some good ideas — such as raising tuitions and covering rising costs in the state employee health plan with existing retirement reserves rather than increased taxpayer support — it also brings back a number of old, bad ideas such as $12 million in discretionary slush funds in Human Resources and Cultural Resources eliminated just last year.
North Carolina's Unemployment Insurance trust funds continue to be bloated due to overcharging workers and employers. A series of tax cuts during the 1990s has failed to bring the system under control. A new bill would cut the UI tax by 20 percent but impose a new tax of the same amount to fund unneeded administrative costs and community college items that, in some cases, constitute corporate welfare. A better answer would be to cut UI taxes and draw down the state's separate $200 million reserve for any needed college improvements.
The N.C. Senate is debating its budget proposal for FY 2001-03. For all the furor about "severe cuts" in the plan, it would increase total General Fund spending next year at nearly the same rate (4.7%) as Gov. Mike Easley's budget (5.2%), including a 15% increase in health and human services spending vs. Easley's 16.2% hike. Both offer a stark contrast to the Changing Course budget prepared by Locke analysts, which would essentially hold spending constant while cutting taxes.
For all the talk of a fiscal crisis this year and the need to tighten the belt of state government, Gov. Jim Hunt's proposed adjustments to the FY 2000-01 budget would hike General Fund operating spending by nearly 7 percent, vastly increase state debt, and deplete state savings accounts for many years to come. The budget also contains many new items of questionable merit. North Carolinians should not be surprised to see sizable tax increases in the future as a result.
As state lawmakers grapple with a projected budget gap of at least half a billion dollars, some observers have blamed recent tax cuts for the problem. But modest tax reductions in the mid-1990s followed big tax increases earlier in the decade. The net change in taxes in the 1990s was a tax increase of nearly half a billion dollars. Other proposed causes for the gap, including poor legal representation and excessive spending growth during the decade, are more persuasive.