Economist Art Laffer told state lawmakers that the movement to overhaul the tax code in North Carolina is crucial to the national "fight for a different sort of economics."
"You are wearing the white hat," he said. "Don't let them take the white hate off you. Go to the goal line."
Laffer, the conservative economist and trickle-down believer, gave the keynote address at a "training" for state lawmakers hosted by the Civitas Institute, a conservative political organization. Civitas paid Laffer to analyze the outline of a tax plan being considered by Senate Republicans that would call for abolishing the state's income taxes and instead impose an 8 percent sales tax and apply it to dozens of duty-free goods and services, such as lawyers, medical care and groceries.
The day-long event featured presentations from a number of state lawmakers from outside North Carolina who are members of the American Legislative Exchange Council, known as a ALEC, a controversial group that pushes "model legislation" based on conservative ideology. Among them: Oklahoma lawmakers Jason Nelson, Jabar Shumate and Thomas Newell and Arizona state Sen. Rick Murphy. The topics included so-called education savings accounts, dubbed school "vouchers 2.0," school choice lessons, tax code changes and a constitutional primer.
Francis De Luca, the Civitas President, said about 40 to 50 state lawmakers attended the event at various points Thursday. The group held similar sessions for freshman lawmakers in 2007, 2009 and 2011 but opened to all interested lawmakers this year. DeLuca said it was a bipartisan group at the event.
At an evening reception, Laffer lauded the North Carolina lawmakers for looking at revamping the tax code. "I can't tell you how proud I am of you," he said.
His study is being criticized by the N.C. Justice Center, a liberal think tank, for hurting the poor and helping the wealthy more. A sheet distributed to all lawmakers said such regressivity arguments don't take into account the "welfare benefits and wages" the government gives low-income earners.
De Luca said the attacks at Laffer's study of Senate Republicans' plan "comes down to philosophy." But even Republican Gov. Pat McCrory's budget director, Art Pope, is personally questioning the plan. Pope's family foundation funds the Civitas Institute.