Pope’s tax comments: Trial Balloon? Message from Gov Pat to NCGA? (Both?)






State budget director Art Pope — a/k/a Chris Fitzsimon’s bogey-man — made some news and raised some eyebrows with his recent comments about efforts in the legislature to reform the state tax code:

Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget director distanced the Republican chief executive from a proposal to eliminate income taxes in North Carolina and expressed his own “great concerns” with the concept being floated by leading GOP lawmakers.

Art Pope said the state’s current tax system is plagued by “holes and problems” – but the idea of abolishing personal and corporate income taxes by increasing the sales tax and levying the tax on dozens of duty-free services creates more concerns.

“Maybe if you were designing a tax code from scratch, you may want to look at a broad-based consumption tax,” Pope told a reporter roundtable at UNC-Chapel Hill’s journalism school Wednesday. “To go there from where we are now, I think, is very difficult to do and has lot of impracticalities.”

In particular, Pope cited a concern that the higher sales tax is “absolutely, no doubt” regressive, meaning it would hurt low-income taxpayers the hardest. He said it amounts to a gross income tax “without any regard to whether you are making any money.” And he worried about upsetting the current three-tier system of income, sales and properties taxes, calling it “fairly balanced.” […]

Hmm.  The Civitas Institute, founded and primarily funded by the Pope Family, is leading the charge for the current tax reforms being touted on Jones Street.  It seems awfully strange for Pope to step out so publicly and throw a team he was — until recently —  part of under the bus.    Hearing the alleged conservative godfather utilize gems from the lefty lexicon like “regressive,” progressive”, “hurt low-income taxpayers the hardest,” and “fairly balanced” is also cause for concern.  What is going on here? 

I have two theories:

  1. Trial balloon:   This is a  tried-and-true PR tactic used by politicians and big business types.  If you have an idea that you are uncertain about — like turning on your conservative base and opposing tax reform — you send a surrogate out to the media to publicize the idea.  If there is a big backlash, the man at the top has plausible deniability.  He can simply suggest the surrogate over-reached with his comments. That’s one possibility, here.

  2. A shot across the bow to keep Jones Street in line: It’s becoming increasingly clear that many GOP legislators are taking their cues from our state’s new governor.   Late last year, a significant mutiny against House Speaker Thom Tillis was brewing.  Then, Tillis’s fellow Charlottean becomes governor-elect, and all that tough talk seems to melt away.  Tillis gets re-elected speaker unopposed.

    On repealing ObamaCare at the state level, McCrory has been poo-pooing the idea since he moved into town.  He called it “the law of the land” that we had to simply deal with.  Soon, we had Tillis moving across the state parroting the McCrory line — until he got called out by grassroots activists.

    We’ve had legislators — as well as Lt. Gov. Dan Forest — talking publicly about reforming the state tax code.  Suddenly, we have McCrory’s budget director going against the grain and publicly shooting down such ideas.   Legislators talked tough about voter ID laws.  Then, we get McCrory saying he’ll accept light bills and other non-photo documents in the legislation.  Afterward, we had legislators parroting that line.

Perhaps we’re seeing the first hints of a top-down management style in Raleigh dominated by watered-down, country-club Rockefeller Republicanism.

  So, the NCGOP is standing up for a “progressive” tax code?  Progressive tax codes are all about making it harder for people to accrue wealth.  It’s antithetical to conservatism — what the GOP is allegedly all about.  

To all of those grassroots folks who have been calling their legislators — I think you need to add Mayor Governor Pat to your call / email list.  We’ve been told that November ushered a “conservative revolution” into Raleigh.  The only way we are going to see any of that is by breathing down their necks and keeping their feet to the fire.