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Lawmakers leave budget behind, head to California conference

Posted July 22, 2015 6:11 p.m. EDT
Updated July 23, 2015 12:15 a.m. EDT

— Two weeks after taking a summer break from their legislative activities, including hammering out a state budget deal, some North Carolina lawmakers are again fleeing Jones Street for more pleasant climes.

Nine Republican House members, including Speaker Tim Moore, and Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, are attending the annual conference of the American Legislative Exchange Council in San Diego, which runs through Friday.

Better known as ALEC, the conservative nonprofit sometimes comes under fire for giving business executives direct access to lawmakers, who often return to their states with model legislation favored by those corporate interests. In North Carolina, legislation modeled upon ALEC proposals includes attempts to repeal the state's mandate for renewable energy production, tort reform, malpractice reform, providing immunity from civil penalties to companies that report their own environmental violations and a push to teach the gold standard in schools.

"ALEC is a great organization," Moore, R-Cleveland, said Wednesday. "They espouse ideas such as lower taxes, greater individual liberty, very much in line with the things I think make government great."

Gov. Pat McCrory spoke at the ALEC convention last summer.

The conference gives lawmakers a chance to interact with legislators from other states and exchange ideas, Moore said, downplaying criticism of invitation-only receptions with ALEC's major corporate backers.

"What I’ve found is that the meetings are very much just informative. You learn a lot of things," he said. "I know some of the groups coming out and criticizing ALEC, a lot of them are the same groups that criticize us because we want to lower taxes. But I frankly believe that’s what most North Carolinians want."

Tazra Mitchell, a policy analyst at the left-leaning North Carolina Budget & Tax Center, said corporate tax cuts primarily benefit the companies that receive them and not the majority of state residents.

"The money behind ALEC is often money from lobbyists and money from big corporations who push for things that are not in the best interest of the public," Mitchell said. "Things that really benefit corporations but not local communities and average, everyday Americans."

In addition to Moore and Rucho, the following North Carolina lawmakers are attending the ALEC conference: Reps. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln, John Fraley, R-Iredell, Craig Horn, R-Union, Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke, Sarah Stevens, R-Surry, Stephen Ross, R-Alamance, Mark Brody, R-Union, and George Robinson, R-Caldwell.