NC Superintendent Atkinson’s suggestion for a teacher tax exemption flops

lbonner@newsobserver.comJune 17, 2013 

State Schools Superintendent June Atkinson speaks to reporters at The News & Observer in Raleigh on Monday, June 17, 2013.

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— Legislators rejected a suggestion from the elected state schools chief that the state exempt teachers from personal income taxes.

June Atkinson, the state Superintendent of Public Instruction, told News & Observer editorial writers and reporters Monday that teachers should be exempt, but said she would not have made the suggestion if teachers were going to receive raises next year. The tax break for traditional K-12 and charter teachers would cost about $300 million, she said. The state Department of Public Instruction chief fiscal officer put the cost at $250 million.

Two national organizations – the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Tax Foundation – said no state gives teachers a personal income tax exemption.

The House and Senate have developed separate tax proposals. Neither included a tax exemption for teachers, and Atkinson’s proposal probably won’t be considered.

While the idea may be well-intentioned, Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican and a tax-plan author, said, “I don’t think that particular one is as well thought out as it should have been.”

The Republican effort has centered on broadening the tax base, he said, not shrinking it.

Shelly Carver, a spokeswoman in Senate leader Phil Berger’s office, said the Senate plan would lower the tax burden for all residents, rather than single out any one group.

Atkinson’s suggestion is a response to the budget and tax proposals legislators are debating this year. The Senate tax plan would phase out corporate income and franchise taxes. The House plan would cut the 6.9 percent corporate income tax in stages to 5.4 percent by 2018.

Atkinson and other education leaders have been frustrated by low teacher salaries. State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey, a Republican, said last week that one of his top priorities is increasing teacher pay. The state’s starting salary for teachers is $30,800 a year. Teachers without advanced degrees or certification from the National Board of Professional Teacher Standards must have 15 years experience before they clear $40,000 on the state salary schedule.

Most school districts supplement state teacher salaries.

“Much has been said about the need for North Carolina to become more competitive with our surrounding states when it comes to corporate income taxes,” Atkinson said in a statement. “Those supporting a cut in corporate income taxes say that the reduction will attract more corporations and then we will have more jobs for North Carolinians.

“The General Assembly proposed budgets do not include salary increases for teachers, but corporations expanding or locating in North Carolina certainly need workers who are educated – the work of teachers,” she wrote.

Atkinson, a Democrat, said she had not enlisted any legislators in the effort.

Brian Lewis, a lobbyist for the N.C. Association of Educators, said it seems Atkinson is trying to make a point about low salaries, but a tax exemption for teachers isn’t something NCAE has discussed.

David Lewis said he agrees that the state should be a place teachers want to work, but giving them a tax exemption would open the way to arguments that private school teachers, home-schooling parents, active-duty soldiers, fire fighters, and a host of others also deserve tax-exempt status.

House tax-plan authors have begun meeting with Senate staff on the tax plan, he said, and a compromise is expected to be worked out by June 30, the end of the budget year.

Bonner: 919-829-4821

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