Five Criteria to Consider When Thinking About Taxes

Taxes are a necessary aspect of any modern society, as they provide the government with the resources needed to provide public goods and services such as infrastructure, healthcare, education, and security. However, not all taxes are created equal, and policymakers must take into account various criteria when designing and implementing tax policies. In this blog post, we will discuss five tax criteria: economic efficiency, equity, adequacy, feasibility, and transparency.

The Millennial Guide to Doing Your Taxes

  1. Economic Efficiency: Economic efficiency refers to the ability of taxes to raise revenue with minimal distortion to economic behavior. Taxes can create economic distortions by altering the incentives of taxpayers, which can lead to changes in their behavior. For example, high taxes on labor income may discourage people from working, while taxes on capital may discourage investment. A tax system that minimizes these distortions is considered economically efficient. Policymakers can achieve economic efficiency by designing taxes that are broad-based, have low rates, and minimize exemptions.
  2. Equity: Equity refers to the fairness of the tax system. One way a tax system is considered fair when taxpayers are required to contribute to the cost of public goods and services according to their ability to pay. The ability to pay is usually determined by income or wealth. A progressive tax system, where the effective tax rate increases as income or wealth increases, or a proportional tax system, where the effective tax rate is the same across income groups, is typically considered more equitable than a regressive tax system, where the tax rate decreases as income or wealth increases. Policymakers can achieve equity by designing taxes that are progressive or proportional, provide targeted tax credits or deductions to low-income households, and eliminate tax loopholes that benefit only segments of the population.  A second way to consider equity is through the benefit principle, where a tax (or fee) structure is designed to target those who benefit from a service at a higher level than those who do not (at least directly).  Policymakers can achieve this form of equity by designing taxes (and fee) structures where the consumption of the service or good is linked to the use of it.  This is justification for many taxes and fees like a fuel tax which finances roads and highways.
  3. Adequacy: Adequacy refers to the ability of taxes to raise enough revenue to fund public goods and services. Policymakers must ensure that the tax system is capable of generating sufficient revenue to meet the government’s spending obligations. Adequate taxes can help maintain public confidence in the government’s ability to provide essential services, promote economic stability, and reduce the risk of fiscal crises. Policymakers can achieve adequacy by designing taxes that are broad-based, have moderate rates, and are regularly adjusted to reflect changes in the economy.
  4. Feasibility: Feasibility refers to the ease of administering and enforcing the tax system. A tax system that is too complex or difficult to enforce can result in high compliance costs, tax evasion, and reduced revenue. Policymakers must consider the administrative and enforcement costs of implementing tax policies when designing the tax system. Simplicity and clarity can improve the feasibility of the tax system. Policymakers can achieve feasibility by designing taxes that are easy to understand, have simple compliance requirements, and use modern technology to improve administration and enforcement.
  5. Transparency: Transparency refers to the openness and accessibility of tax information. A transparent tax system provides taxpayers with clear and understandable information about the tax policies, tax rates, and tax revenues. Transparency can help promote public trust in the tax system, reduce tax evasion, and increase compliance. Policymakers can achieve transparency by providing clear and accessible tax information, engaging in public consultations when designing tax policies, and publishing regular reports on tax revenues and expenditures.

Tax IRS Cartoon 32

In conclusion, tax policies play a vital role in any modern society. Policymakers must consider various criteria, including economic efficiency, equity, adequacy, feasibility, and transparency when designing and implementing tax policies. By incorporating these criteria into tax policies, policymakers can create a fair, efficient, and effective tax system that promotes economic growth, social justice, and public trust.

Citizen Engagement: Active Participation

Local governments in North Carolina are required to engage citizens in their budget process by following the guidelines set forth by the Local Government Budget and Fiscal Control Act. This act requires that local governments provide opportunities for public input and involvement throughout the budget process, including public hearings, workshops, and other forums for community feedback. The local government must also make the budget and related documents available to the public for review and provide a written summary of the proposed budget. Furthermore, the budget must be advertised in the local newspaper, and the public must be given an opportunity to comment on the budget before it is adopted.

In addition to these legal requirements, many local governments in North Carolina have taken further steps to engage citizens in the budget process. For example, some governments hold community meetings or town hall events specifically to discuss the budget and gather feedback from citizens. Others may use social media platforms or online surveys to reach a wider audience and gather input from those who cannot attend in-person meetings. By involving citizens in the budget process, local governments can ensure that the budget reflects the needs and priorities of the community and fosters a sense of transparency and accountability.  In previous posts (for example: here, here, and here), I have discussed citizen engagement in the budgeting process.  In general, these discussions go well beyond what is required by the state in terms of citizen engagement.  In this post, I will discuss the third and final “phase”, active participation.   Active participation is achieved when government and citizens collaborate on a set of policy issues and citizens are actively able to shape policy and outcomes.

Governments, especially local governments, around the world are increasingly turning to active participation methods like participatory budgeting (including Greensboro and Durham) and citizen advisory boards to engage with citizens and foster greater public participation in decision-making processes. These methods are designed to ensure that the voices of all citizens are heard, and that governments are accountable to the communities they serve. In this blog post, we’ll explore the benefits and concerns of these methods, as well as best practices for their implementation.

What is PB? - Participatory Budgeting Project

Benefits of Active Participation Methods

Active participation methods like participatory budgeting and citizen advisory boards have several benefits. First, they promote greater transparency and accountability in government decision-making. By involving citizens directly in the decision-making process, governments can demonstrate that they are responsive to the needs of the communities they serve.

Second, these methods can help to build stronger communities by fostering greater civic engagement and participation. When citizens feel that their voices are being heard and that they have a say in how their tax dollars are being spent, they are more likely to be invested in the success of their communities.

Third, active participation methods can help to identify and address issues that may not be immediately apparent to government officials. By involving citizens directly in the decision-making process, governments can gain a better understanding of the needs and priorities of their communities, and develop more effective policies and programs as a result.

Rainy Day Bus Riding Survival Guide

Concerns and Drawbacks

Despite the many benefits of active participation methods, there are also some concerns and drawbacks to consider. One concern is that these methods can be time-consuming and resource-intensive. Participatory budgeting, for example, requires significant staff time and resources to manage the process and ensure that it is fair and transparent.

Another concern is that these methods may not always be representative of the broader community. For example, citizen advisory boards may be dominated by certain interest groups or demographics, which can skew the priorities and perspectives represented in the decision-making process.

Finally, there may be concerns about the efficacy of these methods. While participatory budgeting and citizen advisory boards can help to identify community needs and priorities, they may not always result in the most effective policies or programs. Additionally, there may be questions about whether the decisions made through these methods are binding or simply advisory.

How to Do a Cost-Benefit Analysis for Important Decisions - Lucrum  Consulting, Inc.

Best Practices for Implementation

To ensure the success of active participation methods, governments should follow best practices for implementation. These include:

  • Clearly define the goals and objectives of the process. Governments should be clear about what they hope to achieve through participatory budgeting or citizen advisory boards, and ensure that these goals are aligned with broader policy objectives.
    • This includes not asking for feedback and input that your jurisdiction does not have a plan for using and/or acting on.
  • Develop a transparent and inclusive process. Governments should develop a process that is transparent, fair, and inclusive, and ensure that all citizens have an equal opportunity to participate.
    • This often means having several avenues for citizens to participate.
  • Provide adequate resources and support. Governments should provide adequate resources and support to ensure that the process is well-managed and that citizens have the information and tools they need to participate effectively.
  • Incorporate feedback and evaluation. Governments should incorporate feedback and evaluation into the process, and use this feedback to refine and improve the process over time.


Active participation methods like participatory budgeting and citizen advisory boards are powerful tools for engaging citizens and fostering greater public participation in decision-making processes. These methods have many benefits, including greater transparency, accountability, and civic engagement. However, there are also concerns and drawbacks to consider, including resource constraints, representativeness, and efficacy. By following best practices for implementation, governments can ensure that these methods are successful in promoting greater public participation and achieving policy objectives.

ARP Accounting and Financial Reporting in North Carolina

Accounting and financial reporting guidance for American Rescue Plan monies seems to be a never-ending soap opera with constant twists and turns.  While there is extensive GAAP-guidance for government mandated nonexchange transactions related to asset, liability, revenue, and expense/expenditure recognition, it has proven more challenging to readily fit all the square evolving ARP guidelines and options into the GAAP round holes.  This blogpost focuses on asset, liability, revenue and expense/expenditure recognition guidelines for the various ways that ARP funds may be received, managed, and expended.

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One Working Capital Management Strategic Tool: Interfund Transfers

By Michelle Lofton and Mikhail Ivonchyk

Working capital management is a managerial strategy that monitors and uses current assets (e.g., cash, accounts receivable, and inventory) and current liabilities (e.g., accounts payable and notes payable) to ensure smooth operations. The purpose is to maintain cash flows for liquidity to meet short-term operating expenses and obligations. This integral part of sound financial management uses a variety of strategic tools to manage cash flows. These can include the use of unrestricted cash, savings, interfund borrowing, interfund transfers, delaying payments, receivables, a line of credit, direct lending arraignments, and short-term debt. Yet, little academic research on governments has evaluated the process for selecting different tools, the policies governments have in place to implement them, and the consequences of using one tool over another.

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GiveUNC 2022


When Dean Mike Smith asked me to join the UNC School of Government Foundation Board in 2014, I was honored to have the opportunity to work in support of an institution that has done so much for my home state of North Carolina. I also feel fortunate, however, to have had the opportunity to do this work alongside Mike.

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In this post I will be answering some common questions regarding the Certified Local Government Budget Officers Program or CLGBO.  To be clear this is what had been referred to as the CBEO (Certified Budget and Evaluation Officers) Program.

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So, Your Jurisdiction is Thinking of Starting a Revenue Manual…

Consulting and updating your revenue manual is the first step of the administrative process for revenue forecasting.  At least, that is what I say when I teach revenue forecasting.  Of course, when I then turn to the course participants and ask how many of them have revenue manuals in their jurisdiction only one or two raise their hands.  In fact, there are some years when no one raises their hand.

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Who Says You are an Appraiser? Appraisal and other Property Tax Certifications, Credit Hours, and Designations

There are many certification programs involved with property tax.  I suggest that every NC property tax student be familiar with which organizations provide certifications, credit hours, and the requirements of those organizations. A certification or designation is required by law for some positions. Two are required in the assessor’s office. If you are one of the 100 appointed county assessors in North Carolina or a county appraiser, you must be certified by the NC Department of Revenue. Becoming and being a certified assessor or appraiser includes requirements for initial certification (certifying education) and also follow-up requirements for continuing education. If you represent yourself as a real estate appraiser but do not fill one of the two positions above, NC law requires your certification to be through the NC Appraisal Board. All other certification programs for property tax are not legally required in NC law but may be required by your employer or by your association. Perhaps you’re not currently in a position that is required to be certified but your future could lead you in that direction. Regardless, I think you should maintain your course records for attendance and successful completion of property tax courses. I have recognized uncertainty in this area over the years and it seems to be more so in recent times. I hope this post is a way to help bring us back to certainty. Continue reading

Fiscal Impacts from COVID-19–Revenue Structure Matters

Guest Contributors: Hai (David) Guo and Can Chen

What is the most significant fiscal challenge for the municipal governments facing the unexpected outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic? It is no surprise that Florida city managers placed the forecasts for the pandemic’s impact on local revenues as the top priority, as local governments are revenue-driven entities. The tradeoff between revenue growth and stability has always been a concern for local governments. With procyclical fiscal policy, local governments usually face abrupt revenue shortfalls and high demand for public service during economic recession. The COVID-19 pandemic-induced recession is no exception. Furthermore, there is tremendous uncertainty regarding the duration of the pandemic, the magnitude and requirement of federal government aid, and the public’s behavioral change.
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To those who have already donated: on behalf of the faculty and staff at the School of Government, we thank you for being a part of GiveUNC. We are grateful for your support of both the School and the state of North Carolina.

For the entirety of its 90 years of existence, the School of Government’s mission has been focused on the people of North Carolina. Through our commitment to offering high-quality education, advising, and support to public officials across the state, we improve the lives of North Carolinians. We firmly believe this work is more critical than ever.
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