Art of taxation

January 24, 2013 

Art Pope speaks with the confidence of a man will a few million dollars in the bank, a wealth of knowledge about economics in his head, and fellow Republicans in control of the General Assembly and the Governor’s Office. That’s something the contributions of Pope and organizations and individuals with whom he’s affiliated helped make possible.

But in speaking to journalists and students and those from the academic community in Chapel Hill on Wednesday, Pope the practical budget-maker won out over Pope the conservative ideologue. And that’s good.

As some Republican leaders in the legislature flirt with abolishing corporate and personal income taxes in favor of a giant sales tax, Pope in effect urged them not to make that date. Balance in taxation, with personal, corporate, property and sales taxes, he said, can work, and to lean too heavily on a sales tax would be risky and regressive, hurting the poor and middle class most deeply.

“To go there from where we are now,” he said, “I think is very difficult to do and has a lot of impracticalities.” That’s not to say that as budget czar for Gov. Pat McCrory, Pope won’t be looking at tax advantages for business. That was a rhetorical hallmark, at least, of McCrory’s campaign, during which he often said that North Carolina has to be more “business-friendly” with regard to corporate taxation and regulation.

Pope, a former legislator and official in the administration of former Republican Gov. Jim Martin, is likely to do some things on that score that will draw the ire of Democrats and progressives. But he’s savvy enough to know that governing is different from running, and that many state programs are mandated by the federal government. (He acknowledged at one point that “not much” could be done by the state with regard to the federal/state health insurance program for the poor, Medicaid.)

Let’s hope, at least, that Republicans in the legislature pick up on Pope’s concerns about a risky and unfair proposal to eliminate taxes on income in favor of a higher sales tax.

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