Raleigh, N.C. — Americans for Prosperity will spend $500,000 over the next 90 days on a campaign meant to encourage lawmakers to follow through on pledges to simplify North Carolina's tax code and lower taxes.
"Most of this is carrots," said Dallas Woodhouse, North Carolina director for the national conservative organization. Asked if the group would launch negative ads if reform stalled, Woodhouse said, "The plan right now is to be more positive, but I will never rule that out."
Republican leaders who now control both the House and Senate, as well as many of their rank-and-file members, ran on pledges to reform the state tax code. Proposals are being drafted in both chambers that would lower corporate and personal income tax rates, drawing more of the state's revenue from sales taxes.
Gov. Pat McCrory, also a Republican, has said that he backs a broad rewrite of the tax system.
However, the plans are controversial. Advocates from liberal leaning groups say cutting income tax rates will do little to spark the economy while raising sales taxes will hurt low-income individuals. Even among backers of the general income-tax cutting framework, there is a great deal of difference over the details.
Companies that stand to lose tax breaks they now enjoy could become some of the most vocal opponents of the measure. Similar "special interest" objections have helped kill tax reform measures in the past.
"If you do the right thing, we're going to have your back," said AFP national president Tim Phillips.
The offer essentially is a pledge to offset negative attention lawmakers backing tax reform might get from groups that lose exemptions or end up collecting sales taxes when they have never had to do so before. Such campaigns cannot only make lawmakers uncomfortable while in office but can lead to problems on the campaign trail.
AFP's offer may have particular salience. The group was a player in the 2010 and 2012 elections that brought Republican majorities to power and helped keep them there. As well, one of the group's long-time patrons and board members, Art Pope, resigned his role with the nonprofit to become McCrory's budget director.
Woodhouse said that, in addition to praising lawmakers, AFP would take out ads in national trade magazines boasting of North Carolina's new, lower tax rates.
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest turned out for AFP's news conference Tuesday, applauding the work that was already underway in the Senate. Woodhouse gave Forest a green "Back in the Game" football jersey that the group had made as a prop for the event.