By Clint Bolick
An endless cascade of bills showers into the hands of an eager Hollywood producer. And they’re not ones or fives, but bills in the denomination of two hundred thousand dollars apiece.
Is it a lottery?
The Academy Awards?
None of the above; it’s the official website of the North Carolina Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development. Or at least it was, until a few hours following the first lawsuit of the Institute for Justice North Carolina Chapter.
Arguing that corporate subsidies violate the North Carolina Constitution, IJ-NC has challenged a program that gives producers up to $200,000 if they spend more than one million dollars shooting a film in the Tarheel State. The film companies don’t have to hire employees from North Carolina or pay state taxes. It’s corporate welfare, pure and simple.
A report by an economist employed by the North Carolina Department of Revenue found that subsidies do little to attract new firms to the state. Yet the film giveaway is just the tip of the subsidy iceberg–and not just in North Carolina but around the nation.
The essence of IJ-NC’s legal claim is that taking money from North Carolina taxpayers and giving it to Hollywood filmmakers serves no public purpose, and confers unequal benefits on some businesses to the detriment of others, in violation of the North Carolina Constitution. The chapter seeks to establish the precedent that the market, and not the state government, should choose economic winners and losers.
IJ-NC represents Edward Jones, who runs a residential renovation business in Raleigh, along with the Wake County Taxpayers’ Association.
Armed with one of the strongest pro-liberty constitutions in the nation, IJ-NC opened its doors in February and immediately started suing deserving bureaucrats. The chapter is under the spirited leadership of Michael Byrne, who was willing to give up a thriving solo law practice in western North Carolina to fight for individual liberty in Raleigh at IJ’s newest state chapter.
Byrne is supported by staff attorney Heather Royster, a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina School of Law. The chapter is developing a cadre of pro bono lawyers to leverage its resources.
IJ-NC is working closely with the John Locke Foundation, the state’s premier pro-free market think tank, to develop good cases to litigate under the state constitution, which among other things expressly guarantees the right to earn an honest living and prohibits government monopolies.
IJ-NC is the second installment in the Institute’s evolution from a national to a nationwide public interest law firm. The first state chapter, in Arizona, has been operational more than one year and has challenged grassroots tyranny in a wide variety of contexts. A third chapter in Washington state will open soon.
The idea of the chapters is to focus on state constitutions, which were intended by our nation’s founders to be the primary bulwarks of individual liberty. We have learned in Arizona that a small legal staff, supplemented by volunteer assistance, can produce a big impact. And adding state constitutional claims to our litigation arsenal serves IJ’s broader mission of protecting individual liberty and reducing the scope of the regulatory welfare state.
Exploring the unique provisions of the North Carolina Constitution—which was heavily influenced by John Locke—made our mouths water. We are excited about the prospects for IJ-style litigation in that state.
The State’s hasty removal of its website showering money upon Hollywood producers—an obscene spectacle at a time of huge state budget deficits—demonstrates that the bureaucrats know we’re watching. But it’s only the beginning. Before long, government officials throughout the state will know that if they exceed their constitutional parameters, consequences are sure to follow.
Clint Bolick is IJ’s vice president and national director of state chapters.