EDITORIAL: State Should Redo Its Tax Structure
Tax structure reform may not be rocket science, but it's close to brain surgery.
A joint House-Senate committee of the North Carolina General Assembly began work this past week on just such surgery.
Committee members, including Moore County's Sen. Harris Blake, focused on the sales tax system at their opening meeting and picked up hints about the major issues to be tackled.
"It is very convoluted and very confusing," Blake said after the meeting. And he was talking about the sales tax system, not the far more lucrative income tax system, a subject soon to make the agenda.
Blake admits that he was amazed at the complexity of the sales tax mechanism. It applies to some goods and not to others, is levied on some customers and not others, and is capped in a number of directions.
Simplification Is in Order
Even without changing the level of taxation, North Carolina would be doing small businesses a big favor by simplifying the sales tax structure.
For example, a mom-and-pop grocery business must figure out what to tax and what not to tax for each customer, because the owners are unlikely to be part of a regional network of chain stores that provides instant computer programming.
State tax overhaul is long overdue, and the General Assembly has for years dragged its feet on the subject. It's easy to see why legislators want to delay tackling this monstrous issue.
In terms of its business taxation methods and policies, North Carolina must be doing something right, since the influential Site Selection magazine has consistently ranked our state No. 1 when it comes to business climate. Contributing to this rating is our state's higher education system, with its broad community college network. But tax levels represent another major factor.
Still, North Carolina can surely do better when it comes to putting the tax bite on both businesses and individuals. Changes in the way we live and do business have heightened the need for the legislature to address restructuring. When the present tax system was established, individuals were not paying bills online and buying and selling merchandise through eBay. No one but the vanguard could have predicted an age in which a major portion of the population depends upon cell phones to meet communication needs and wants.
Too Easy to Put Off
Legislators and taxpayers alike have been batting around the tax overhaul issue for almost 10 years, but attempts have fallen by the wayside each time, either out of political concerns or because of the massive complexity of the entire subject.
No one likes to pay taxes, but the realistic among us recognize that we must have resources to cover necessities, ranging from education to public safety. The sheer magnitude of the task is gulp-inducing. Clearly, North Carolina needs to clarify its tax system. We need one that is fair, reasonable and transparent, but also one that provides sufficient revenues to cover our needs efficiently.
The General Assembly relies on a committee system along with a rarely recognized research wing to keep business moving. Though cumbersome, committees provide a degree of efficiency. Without committees, the legislature would either be in session year-round or come to a fumbling halt.
This portentous task requires intelligence, political savvy, realism, dedication and, above all, political courage.
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