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Philosophies And Details - The Campaign For And Against Capping NC's Income Tax Rate

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Matt Bush BPR
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Asheville mayor Esther Manheimer speaks against the six proposed constitutional amendments during a press conference Thursday morning

Support and opposition to the six proposed North Carolina constitutional amendments on this year’s ballot breaks down along party lines by and large – with Republicans in support and Democrats against.

One of those six proposed amendments would lower the cap on North Carolina’s income tax rate if approved.  And in many ways, that campaign over that amendment pits philsophies against details.

The current income tax rate cap in North Carolina is 10%, and approval of this constitutional amendment by voters would drop that cap to 7%.  Currently though, the income tax rate in North Carolina is beneath that proposed cap, at just under 5.5%.  So approval of this amendment does not mean a tax cut.  That’s no matter to Dr. Carl Mumpower, the chair of the Buncombe County Republican party.  The former Asheville city councilman says his party’s take on lowering the rate cap is simple.

“We’re Republicans.  We like to see people keep their own money in their own pockets if they earn it," he says.  "We believe that’s the proper place to keep most of it.  We offer no hesitancy to control the spend other people’s money appetites of the liberal/progressive/socialist movement.”  Mumpower goes on to call income tax a 'backdoor sly tax' because of how it's collected, typically through payroll deductions.  He compares that to sales taxes, which he argues people have a better idea about because they're shown on receipts after a purchase.

Asheville mayor Esther Manheimer, a Democrat, sees the issue much differently and more complicated.  She envisions a scenario where the state needs to raise more revenue, such as following an economic downturn or recession.  With a lower cap on income taxes, the state would have to look at other areas to raise that money.  And Manheimer worries that would lead to higher sales taxes.

“Income tax is one of the lesser regressive taxes," Manheimer says, "because it is taxed against A) people that are working and B) it goes up as you make more income.  Whereas we all pay the same sales tax.  When we make purchases, whether we’re rich or we’re poor, we all pay the same sales tax.  So that's a regressive tax and obviously that's going to be harder on those who can least afford it.”

A recent Elon University poll shows details may be more important for this amendment than any of the others on this year's ballot.  When asked if they support the measure as it's presented on the ballot, 56% of those surveyed they would, with 15% against it, and the rest undecided.  But when told that the proposed amendment would not actually cut their current income tax rate, only 45% supported it with 27% against, and the rest undecided.

Matt Bush joined Blue Ridge Public Radio as news director in August 2016. Excited at the opportunity the build up the news service for both stations as well as help launch BPR News, Matt made the jump to Western North Carolina from Washington D.C. For the 8 years prior to coming to Asheville, he worked at the NPR member station in the nation's capital as a reporter and anchor. Matt primarily covered the state of Maryland, including 6 years of covering the statehouse in Annapolis. Prior to that, he worked at WMAL in Washington and Metro Networks in Pittsburgh, the city he was born and raised in.