Former state Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr, who last month left his position as founding executive director of the N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law, says he wishes he had fought the battle against corporate incentives differently. And he says politicians have become afraid to oppose the practice of luring companies with tax breaks.
Orr made the remarks in a lengthy Q&A with North Carolina Lawyers Weekly published today. Orr says it was probably a mistake to bring broad litigation to attack the 1996 N.C. Supreme Court decision allowing taxpayer-funded incentives. That approach ended up pitting a couple of lawyers with the institute against a phalanx of attorneys from public entities across the state.
"In retrospect I think a better strategy would have been to start out with smaller, more limited challenges to incentives, rather than this sort of huge, broad-based approach," Orr said. "But who knew at that point in time what the best strategy would have been? If I had to do it all over again, though, I would have approached it in a strategically different way."
Orr says it forced the controversy into the public discourse. "And consistently everybody says, 'I really hate incentives, I wish we didn't have to do them. They're bad public policy,' " Orr said. "It's just that there's no vehicle to limit them legally. And from a policy standpoint, everybody's terrified of the four-letter word 'jobs.' They're not willing to do anything that would be perceived politically as reducing North Carolina's opportunity, even though they consistently say it's bad policy."
Read more about how states are approaching the incentives game -- in light of the Chiquita deal -- in this piece from The Charlotte Observer.