Did a little tax reform story for the paper Thursday. This is the less formal, and yet more detailed, version.
High ranking legislators in Raleigh are hammering away at a tax plan that would cut income and business taxes, but the House and Senate have backed separate plans and negotiations over the details are going on in secret, making predictions difficult. Here are a few key elements of the two plans, which are likely to merge in some fashion before a final bill is approved. Most of what's here I got from the fine folks in the General Assembly's Fiscal Research Division ... and it should be obvious the parts I wrote without consulting their bill summaries.
The bottom line: Both plans mean tax cuts, but the Senate wants to cut taxes more. Its plan would shave more than $4.5 billion from projected state revenues over the next five years. The House plan's impact is more like $1.5 billion.
Income taxes: Both plans cut rates and move to a flat tax, meaning everyone pays the same rate regardless of income. The Senate's rate would be 5.4 percent next year and 5.25 percent after that. The House proposed 5.9 percent. But married couples wouldn't pay any taxes on their first $15,000 of income under the Senate plan, or on their first $12,000 under the House plan. Both plans do away with the $50,000-in-tax-free-business-income deal the legislature struck a couple years back.
Deductions: The Senate would eliminate all state income tax deductions, exemptions and tax credits, meaning no more writing off that mortgage interest or those charitable donations. The House caps the deduction for mortgage interest and property taxes at $25,000, so anyone who's never used the phrase "I'll be in the pool house," could still take it. The House also fiddles with the way dependents are handled, eliminating the personal income exemption but more-than-doubling the child tax credit for couples who make less than $100,000 a year. I can't even try to follow what all that does, because I use TurboTax, and it's basically terrible.
More on deductions: In like the meanest move ever, the Senate wants to do away with tax deductions currently enjoyed by firefighters, rescue squad workers, educators and people who were falsely convicted and incarcerated for so long the state had to write them a check. Also paying more: people who got disaster grants after Hurricane Floyd and anyone who was taking a tax credit for building handicapped people places to live. All of which gives me an idea: Let's tax not kicking puppies. GOLD MINE.
Business taxes: Both plans cut the corporate income tax rate, which is now 6.9 percent. The Senate plan phases it out completely by 2017. The House lowers it to 5.4 percent by 2018. Both sides also tinker with the business franchise tax, with the House cutting it and the Senate replacing it with a business privilege tax. Funny story: Some definitions of the phrase "franchise tax" include the phrase "privilege tax." But my sources in the Senate assure me that they are quite SHUT UP AND PAY IT.
Social Security income: The Senate wants to tax some of it, though not for the poorest senior citizens. The House has rejected this proposal due to its policy of, "seriously?"
Taxing services: Earlier in the session there was a plan to charge sales taxes when people purchased any of a slew of services. That plan is dead. But the House would extend sales taxes to some services, including auto repairs and appliance installations. The idea is to tax services where the retailer already charges sales taxes for parts. The Senate plan doesn't include this.
Groceries: Like sales taxes on services, a new state sales tax on groceries was part of a previous Senate plan. That's been rejected. The Senate plan now would actually roll back the 2 cents in local sales taxes consumers currently pay on groceries. Local governments could re-instate that tax, but would have to hold countywide referendums first. The change would cost local governments around the state more than $150 million in fiscal 2015, and more in future years, leading to concerns that those governments would raise property taxes to make up the difference. This is one of several changes that would affect the bottom lines for local governments, and one thing I took away from Speaker of the House Thom Tillis' appearance Wednesday on Capital Tonight was his belief that the bill should be revenue neutral for counties and cities. Also, stop making the House look bad on groceries, Senate. That's their thing to do to you.
Non-profits: The House backed away from a plan to end refunds that non-profits - from small charities to major hospitals and private universities - take now to make up for sales taxes they'd otherwise pay on goods purchased. But the Senate would cap those refunds, shrinking them over the next few years from a maximum of $7.5 million down to $100,000. The lowest cap would mean nearly $236 million a year in new revenue for the state. Non-profits, who also fear donors won't contribute as much if the state lowers the deduction people can take for charitable giving, are not happy. By the way, if you're deciding whether or not to donate to charity based on the state deduction you get for it ... who are you? Can I live in your pool house?
The Back-to-School sales tax holiday: That tax-free weekend in August, when a long list of supplies can be purchased without paying state sales taxes? It's gone in the Senate plan. The House leaves it alone.
Energy Star tax holiday: Both chambers want to do away with this one, ending the November tax-free weekend for energy efficient appliances.
Energy taxes: Both plans do away with existing franchise or excise taxes on natural gas and electricity, replacing them with an increased sales tax. Think of it this way: instead of taxing these things internally, and the company passing the cost to consumers, it's done externally, in a sales tax consumers pay directly. The bills contain language directing the state Utility Commission to roll back energy rates to make up for the changes, but the sales tax is going to bring in significantly more state revenue than the franchise/excise tax does now. That seems like it would do a number of things, not the least of which is increase the cost of high-energy-use businesses, such as manufacturing. But if there's a section of the plans I ought to learn more about (and there is/please don't make me) it's this one. And all the sections with the phrase "franchise tax" involved, really.
Movie tickets: Tickets for "live entertainment, movies and other amusements" would be subject to sales taxes under both plans. Movie theaters and other venues wouldn't have to pay an existing gross receipt taxes any more, but overall the affect is higher taxes for entertainment, and particularly under the Senate plan. For arts organizations, who fear losing their sales tax refunds, this is something of a double whammy.
Newspapers and vending machines: JOURNALISM AND SOCIETY WILL CRUMBLE UNDER THE SENATE PLAN AS CERTAIN NEWSPAPER SALES ARE SUDDENLY TAXED, AS ARE THE VENDING MACHINE FOODS REPORTERS DEPEND ON. Now THAT's a double-whammy.
For more: There are a lot more ins and outs. The General Assembly's Fiscal Research division put together a pair of chart's and descriptions summarizing the two tax plans in greater detail, and that’s where I got most of this information. You can find them here listed as fiscal notes. Make sure to read them before the House and Senate strike a compromise and everything changes.