Two recent reports highlight a stark reality that North Carolinas next governor and General Assembly face: Unemployment went up from 9.6 percent in July to 9.7 percent in August. Thats lower than a year ago but still not good. And the latest Census data show the N.C. poverty rate stayed high at 17.9 percent in 2011, statistically unchanged from 2010. That means nearly 1.7 million N.C. residents are among the ranks of the poor, and more than 737,000 of them live in deep poverty.
The states poverty and deep-poverty rates are now the 13th highest in the nation, according to the N.C. Budget and Tax Center, a project of the N.C. Justice Center. The unemployment rate puts the state at 6th highest in the nation just behind New Jersey, which saw its jobless rate increase to 9.9 percent.
Last week, both Republican Pat McCrory and Democrat Walter Dalton laid out their plans for boosting the states economy and getting North Carolinians back to work. McCrorys includes natural gas exploration and offshore energy drilling, lowering personal and business income tax rates, eliminating the inheritance tax, easing taxes for expanding businesses and reducing burdensome regulations.
Daltons plan includes creating innovation hubs in certain counties, helping small businesses by exempting up to $25,000 of taxable income from corporate taxes, improving workforce training and one-time, $2,000 tax credits to employers who hire a long-term unemployed worker.
Some of those ideas arent bad, but they come nowhere close to a comprehensive strategy that would effectively tackle North Carolinas economic issues issues that had already bubbled up as problematic before the Great Recession hit.
Startlingly absent from both candidates agendas is a much-needed overhaul of the states long antiquated tax code changes that would put the state on track to foster a thriving 21st century economy.
This editorial board has beaten the drum for detailed tax code reform for a while. And N.C. legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle have said they want to tackle tax reform. That includes House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate Finance co-chair Bob Rucho, both Republicans from Mecklenburg, and Democratic Sen. Dan Clodfelter, also of Mecklenburg.
Clodfelter is one of the legislatures most knowledgeable tax reform advocates. Last year, he and other colleagues offered legislation that would have, among other things, phased out the corporate income tax, lowered the sales tax rate to 1 percent, cut income tax rates significantly, replaced the franchise tax with a business privilege tax, and eliminated special interest exemptions.
We dont know if Clodfelter and the others had the right plan but they were right in proposing a comprehensive overhaul. Todays tax code is riddled with exemptions, loopholes and preferential treatment that sap the state of needed revenue. It also acts as a deterrent to new business investment and the creation of new jobs. Thats right. It hurts job growth.
In the past, overhauling the tax code has fallen victim to politics with lawmakers all for cutting taxes but no-shows on closing loopholes and broadening the tax base. Tax reform wont work with such half-stepping. A broader code that includes more revenue generators such as an expanded sales tax on services and simplified and reduced overall rates is critical to support the needs of the state and help its recovery.
Its time for tax code reform to take a prominent place on the agenda of the states chief executive. The public the voting public should insist on it.