Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:
The Gaston Gazette on sales tax:
Appliance installation is now taxed in North Carolina.
What's the latest big idea out of Raleigh? Applying the sales tax to museum gift shops.
That proposal, included in a proposed tax bill that was circulating last week around the Legislative Building, would apply the tax to any museum shop purchase, and to any sales by a nonprofit group to benefit a school or a state agency, such as a state-run historic site.
Exempt would be sales at concession stands in a high school's stadium. One gathers that the honorable legislators who drafted this bill don't go to museums very much, but they do watch the home game.
This is sadly typical of the nickel-and-diming of the Tar Heel taxpayer that our elected leaders have been foisting on us.
Over at the DMV office, the cost of an eight-year driver's license has gone from $32 to $40. The motor vehicle registration fee has gone from $28 to $36.
Community college tuition is going from $72 to $76 per credit hour for in-state residents. For a full-time student — who may be going to a community college because he or she can't afford to attend a state university yet — that charge adds up.
The fee for a medical test for newborns, which all new parents are required to pay, is up from $19 to $24, as of Oct. 1.
Leaders in the legislature have been trumpeting how much they've cut the state income tax. Ordinary taxpayers, however, may find they're putting all that windfall (and maybe a little more) into new sales taxes and fees. We've noted, however, how sales taxes now apply to charges on auto and appliance repairs.
And with the current crowd in Raleigh, it looks like we can expect more of the same. Earlier this month, the legislature's Revenue Laws Study Committee held a hearing on ideas to improve the state tax code.
The Honorables called on only one set of experts — from a conservative-leaning Washington think tank called the Tax Foundation. The Tax Foundation's gurus basically told the Honorables what they wanted to hear: that North Carolina is doing great, but we're going to have to broaden the sales tax if we want to catch up with South Carolina and Mississippi.
One Tax Foundation spokesman suggested more sales taxes on services — as long as (according to one news account) they don't tax "service-related transactions between businesses."
In other words, tap ol' Joe Sixpack again. He shouldn't be spending so much on beer.
Our leaders feel toward the income tax the way vampires feel toward crosses, and Baptists toward pole dancing. Their regard for sales taxes approaches a religious fervor. It seems clear that at least some of them would like to see North Carolina go the way of Texas and Florida and do without income tax entirely.
The News & Observer of Raleigh on mental health reform:
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory has commendably concentrated on mental health care and substance abuse with a task force focused on issues that have confused and challenged lawmakers for many years. The task force has ideas that seem sound — but it will have to persuade the General Assembly to act.
Consider: There is a priority for finding affordable housing for the mentally ill. For one, it's clear that people who are suffering are, as McCrory has said, living in all sorts of places in many circumstances. Some are in prisons; some are in hospitals; some are homeless; some are living with their families in situations that strain everyone involved. The issue also is important because the U.S. Department of Justice had threatened to sue the state because there is a shortage of such housing.
Overall, the task force wants to present to the General Assembly a plan to coordinate mental health policies, particularly those in the health care and justice systems. This makes sense. Rick Brajer, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, rightly noted that oversight of mental health care and substance abuse is scattered: "It's hard to describe it as a system. Because it's not a system."
Creating a system might have a positive impact, for example, on something like the effort not to charge 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in most criminal cases. Juveniles charged as adults often can't get the help they'd be eligible for if they were classified as juveniles. There needs to be more common sense, and compassion, applied in those cases. North Carolina and New York are the only two states that still prosecute all youth as adults when they turn 16 years of age. There also need to be resources for providing more substance abuse treatment for those in jail, who now often return to destructive habits when they leave the prison system — until they return to it.
The governor has endorsed the task force's recommendations and appears ready to push the General Assembly to move on some of its ideas. It will take some doing. The mentally ill have suffered in North Carolina from a lack of coherent policy going back to a 2001 overhaul of mental health care that was unsuccessful. McCrory can distinguish himself if he wins approval for some changes from lawmakers, at long last.
The Fayetteville Observer on renewable energy:
We have an industry in North Carolina that brought in nearly $7 billion last year and provided jobs for more than 26,000 people.
And we have a General Assembly whose members want to end subsidies for that industry, a move that is certain to weaken it and drive away some of those jobs.
We have, in other words, a dilemma.
The industry is renewable energy. The numbers showing its health and success were released by the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association on Tuesday. They show one of the nation's fastest-growing markets for renewable energy. We see it in our own backyard, in Hope Mills, where a Texas company is building the biggest solar farm east of the Rockies.
Nearly half of that business — and more than half of the jobs — is in energy efficiency. Twenty percent is solar and about 5 percent is from wind energy.
All of it is incredibly valuable and critical to our continuing economic growth. So why, then, are there powerful lawmakers who want to strip renewable energy of its tax incentives and hobble it the same way they did the film industry?
Whatever their motive, it's dreadfully short-sighted. Renewable energy is a gold mine that deserves strong support.