ELLIOT: Different stimulus, same response

They say the definition of insanity is repeating the same action and expecting a different result. A corollary would be that offering the same response to different stimuli is just as flawed. The left’s response to the state Senate’s tax cut plan is an example of the latter version of mental instability — or, at least, political unoriginality.This page has detailed the Senate’s plan, which would benefit families in North Carolina and help the economy. The plan would expand the zero-income tax bracket, increasing the amount of income everyone can earn before it is taxed, and drop the personal income tax rate and the corporate rate. Other changes include switching the current per-child tax credit to a deduction, making it more generous, and phasing it out for families at higher incomes (it would start at $2,500 but falls to $0 for families who earn more than $120,000).As shown by both the expansion of the zero bracket and the income-based child tax credit, the plan was geared toward families and those who earn lower incomes. Nonpartisan research estimates that under the plan, 94,000 more North Carolina families will owe no state income taxes at all.Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper called it “tax giveaways to corporations and the wealthiest” that would “punch a hole in the budget.” The left-wing N.C. Justice Center called it “more tax cuts for the wealthy.” In other words, the same old stuff.But the problem is that, whatever you think of the Senate’s plan, it’s certainly not a generic Republican tax cut. The General Assembly has passed those in the past few years, but this isn’t one.For one thing, expanding the zero tax bracket is not in the conservative playbook. In fact, conservative think tanks rate it very low as a pro-growth tax strategy. Only as a waypoint on the drive to the full-scale elimination of the state’s income tax would it be an attractive policy for traditional, pro-growth reformers.Two other aspects of the plan go against standard conservative thought. The changes to the flat per-child credit, as well as adding income phase-outs to the mortgage interest and property tax deduction, add complexity (and therefore compliance costs) to the tax code, something conservative tax reformers tend to avoid.But those on the left aren’t letting any of those facts infiltrate their political response to the plan. Instead, they are trotting out the same class-warfare rhetoric that lost big-league in November.All of this is not to say that the Senate plan is either a political or a policy winner. Politically, it was certainly smart to blunt Cooper’s reinstatement of the child and dependent care credit with the expanded child tax deduction. Likewise, the expansion of the zero bracket is a move that voters can easily understand will help those on the margin, no matter how the left tries to spin it.But in one important way, the political messaging of both the left and the right is similarly backward on the tax plan. The left talks about the “rich” getting more of the benefit of the tax plan, and calculate statistics by looking at how those in upper brackets would benefit as a percentage of the overall cuts. The right talks about the plan being a “Billion Dollar Middle Class Tax Cut” (the title of the bill).Both messages are crafted from the point of view of the government, not the taxpayer. Citizens don’t care all too much what the overall or percentage revenue reduction for the state is. They care how the bill would affect them and the people they care about. Or as my colleague Ray Nothstine artfully joked on Twitter when he saw the bill title, “I’ll take my billion in twenties.”Regardless of the messaging, Republicans in the General Assembly have already won, at least partially. Due to good budgeting and strong economic growth, Cooper is boxed in. Instead of talking about which taxes to raise, he’s arguing about who should get tax cuts and who shouldn’t.Senate leader Phil Berger and his allies have narrowed the range of what is politically possible in North Carolina, and the state will benefit. And the canned responses from the left? Berger should take them as a comforting sign: the game is over, we just don’t know the final score yet.