Opinion

State lawmakers face easy decision to exempt all military retirement pay from tax

Twenty-two states that have a state income tax fully exempt military retirement pay, yet North Carolina isn’t one of them. This is surprising given the state’s rich history of service and military bases.

North Carolina falls under the category of 16 other states with provisions related to military retirement pay, making some eligible for full exemption and others not based solely on a date on the calendar. Why the complexity? All military retirees in the state should have their pay exempt, and they should be first in line for tax relief.

Fortunately, there is legislation to do just with House Bill 83.  Rep. John Szoka, R-Cumberland, is one of the primary sponsors and says the legislation will go a long way in “making North Carolina the most military-friendly state in the nation.”

Szoka noted, too, that the proposed law would attract highly trained individuals and a more talented work force to North Carolina. There is little doubt that at least some military retirees skip over North Carolina as a state for relocation since it’s not included on the lists for full exemption.

Thanks to conservative leadership in the General Assembly oriented toward sustained spending restraint, lawmakers are well-positioned to enact this legislation. It would include all retirees who through 20 years of service are eligible for their pension, including those medically retired or any eligible dependent beneficiary.

Another common-sense reason to exempt military pay is that many recent retirees played a role in shouldering the tremendous burden of executing America’s long War on Terror. Regardless of one’s policy views, many members of the Armed Forces sacrificed tremendously, particularly through time away from loves ones and family during multiple deployments.

Those prolonged sacrifices sometimes carried with them debilitating physical and mental wounds, while the civilian population was shielded from the sacrifice. That situation is unlike many past wars. Much of the military population lived a completely different life and existence through the War on Terror while life remained virtually unchanged or uninterrupted for civilians.

Most important, perhaps, the bill is another step forward for a better tax climate in the state. Policies that lower the tax burden offer not only economic but moral benefits. Families are more equipped to plan for their future and achieve their version of the American dream. Human flourishing abounds while the state becomes more limited to its proper role and sphere of influence when government spending recedes. After all, the purpose of the state is not to social engineer but to protect rights and property.

North Carolina has a great heritage of military service, including those who made the decision to commit an entire career to the Armed Forces. The state is noted for exemplary units like the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg or the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing at Cherry Point. Many service members eschewed higher-paying jobs for reasons of patriotism and the desire to defend the U.S. Constitution.

With bipartisan support, North Carolina should quickly pass H.B. 83 so Gov. Roy Cooper can sign the bill to fully exempt all military retiree pay from state income tax. An inability to do so would signal that lawmakers not only can’t prioritize spending, but the state is not as military-friendly as often perceived by the general population. Lawmakers now have an easy opportunity to make “military-friendly” more than a popular yet incomplete catchphrase.

Ray Nothstine is Carolina Journal opinion editor.