So much for trying to create a progressive tax code.
In North Carolina, Raleigh TV station WRAL—an important player in state policy coverage—took a similar approach in an interesting Jan. 24 segment. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s openness to an income/sales tax shift was played against criticism not just from a local left-leaning think tank, but from his own budget director, who called the proposed move “regressive”:
(A bit oddly, the segment doesn’t pause to explain that that budget director, Art Pope, is no ordinary bureaucrat: he’s a major conservative political financier who until recently sat on the board of the conservative think tank that came up with the tax plan.)
Of course, reporters can’t count on budget directors and revenue departments serving up commentary that undercuts their bosses’ talking points. And as these talks unfold at a pace set by statehouse politicians, it may be hard for reporters to keep up with each bit of incremental spin about the impact of this exemption or that credit on a particular group.
So it would be great to see some of the journalists covering this story be proactive, build a list of authoritative outside voices, and start asking right now: What would a progressive consumption tax look like at the state level? If lawmakers are serious about not simply shifting the tax burden onto poorer households, what features should the new regime have? What would the trade-offs be? Is it even possible for a state, rather than the federal government, to do this? As for who to turn to for help with these questions—I haven’t seen the name of Robert Frank, the Cornell economist, come up in any of these stories. It might be a good idea to give him a call.