RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A top Republican state lawmaker signaled support for cutting the personal income tax rate in half as legislative leaders prepare to take a budget proposal to Gov. Roy Cooper (D) in the coming days.
Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) said one of his priorities is to speed up the timeline that’s already built in to cut the state’s personal income tax rate.
As part of the budget agreement last year, it dropped to 4.99 percent this year and will drop a little bit each year until 2027 when it will reach 3.99 percent.
Sen. Berger said it should go even lower, adding that “2.5 percent sounds fine to me.”
His comments came as new polling released over the last several weeks by the GOPAC Education Fund and the Center for American Ideas found significant majority support in many of the most competitive legislative districts for cutting the personal income tax rate to 2.5 percent by 2030.
The polling was conducted by the Differentiators, a Republican firm founded by two former employees of Sen. Berger. To view the polling results, click here.
“I would like to accelerate the stepdown in the personal income tax,” said Berger.
Democrats, including Gov. Roy Cooper, have said they oppose cutting the income tax rate further, instead supporting a one-time $200 rebate that could help people deal with rising gas prices.
“I would support relief for everyday people, and the gas pump is one place to do that, versus more overall corporate tax cuts and more overall income tax cuts, particularly that benefit the very wealthiest among us,” Gov. Cooper recently said. “I would rather them go that route. But, obviously these are all part of budget negotiations right now.”
Republican legislative leaders plan to unveil the specifics of their budget proposal early next week and to vote on it then as well.
They said they’re talking with Gov. Cooper first before making it public to see whether he would support it.
It’s also expected to include pay raises for state workers and teachers, though Republican have not said precisely how much those would be.
“This is the quickest this has happened in a long time. So, it’s a good sign,” said House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland).
The recent polls also asked voters about some high-profile issues where the Senate has acted in recent weeks but the House has been unwilling to take up.
Earlier this month, the Senate passed a bill to expand Medicaid coverage to about 600,000 more people and make other changes dealing with access to healthcare. Sen. Berger had opposed Medicaid expansion for years but now says he believes it’s “good state policy.”
The Senate also passed a bill to legalize medical marijuana and a controversial bill dealing with parental rights in education that also limits how LGBTQ issues are taught in schools.
The response in the House to each of those has been the same.
“Not no. Not yes. But not now,” Speaker Moore said.
The Differentiators polls have consistently found broad support for Medicaid expansion, legalizing medical marijuana and cutting state income taxes.
Voters are divided, however, on legalizing online sports betting, another high-profile bill awaiting action by the House.
The pollsters conclude it’s unlikely that supporting any of those measures would hurt Republicans’ re-election chances in competitive districts and, in some cases, they may improve their electoral prospects by supporting them.
Speaker Moore said his primary focus is on getting a budget agreement, and the other issues may wait.
“I feel very confident that Republicans will have a supermajority next year. When I say next year, I mean six months from now. We can deal with this then,” he said.
When asked about the House’s refusal so far to consider some of those issues, Sen. Berger said, “I think they ought to take the bills up. I don’t know that being frustrated about it serves any useful purpose at this point.”
Moore also noted the record-breaking long session that the legislature concluded in March after being in session for 14 months.
He committed to members to wrap the current session quickly, aiming to be done by the 4th of July holiday, noting he heard from many of them who were concerned about being able to continue serving in the legislature due to the unusual amount of time they had to commit to it in the long session.
“Yeah, we had a lot of folks who debated whether they could run again because it’s supposed to be a part-time job,” he said. “We had a very long session. It broke the records. I’d like to see us have a really short session.”