State Senate leaders have filed a bill to ban the General Assembly from raising the state income tax rate higher than 5.5 percent, and they’d have it done through a constitutional amendment to go before voters in November.
The populist appeal of limiting taxes is obvious. Leaders are banking on voters taking a simplistic view of the issue, and supporting a cap on taxes, no questions asked. Republicans figure on a short-term political gain, nothing more.
But such a measure would hinder all future editions of the legislature. What if a natural disaster happened that took years to overcome? What if the state went into a deep recession? What if population growth made it necessary to find more revenue to provide basic services?
Oh, lawmakers would raise taxes, all right. But it wouldn’t be the most fair tax, the income tax, based on a person’s ability to pay. No, in need, those legislators would raise sales taxes and service taxes, which hit hardest the middle- and lower-income taxpayers. In fact, while cutting income taxes since taking over on Jones Street, Republicans have raised exactly those kinds of taxes to get more revenue.
This is political demagoguery at its worst. Lawmakers have no business tying the hands of those who’ll succeed them in the future.
It’s entirely appropriate not to raise taxes beyond what is necessary to fund schools or human services or Medicaid or build roads and other transit options and provide for public safety. If taxes can be lowered when the state is enjoying a period of prosperity, fine. But considering their shortsightedness on HB2 — which some Republicans at least probably wish they’d never heard of — it’s hard to believe Senate President pro-tem Phil Berger and his Republican mates have a crystal ball that enables them to see a low cap on incomes taxes is good government.
For they know it’s not. But they know that on the ballot, it will look good to voters, and that’s all that matters to a group that has demonstrated it puts selfish political expediency above all else, evidenced by their ridiculous district lines for legislative and congressional seats, which have plunged the state into a prolonged legal battle.
Said Alexandra Sirota of the N.C. Budget and Tax Center: “Policymakers should be budgeting based on what our communities need to thrive, not limiting flexibility and forcing cuts to vital services or shifts to other taxes ...”
Yes, putting a cap on the income tax will force that shift. But that, of course, won’t be on the ballot.