Local News

GOP leader: Budget, education top action items in new session

Posted January 24, 2011
Updated January 25, 2011

Map Marker  Find News Near Me

— When he was asked how this year’s historic legislative session will be different, incoming Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger couldn’t resist a quip.

“Well, I’ve never had as many of you show up for something like this before,” Berger laughed. “In fact, I couldn’t even give tickets away.”

Phil Berger Web only: NC Senate leader shares priorities for session

For the past two sessions, Berger has been minority leader, happy for any press attention he could get. Now, he’s on center stage as the first Republican Senate leader in more than a century.

“It’s different, there’s no question about that. I feel humbled by the attention that we’ve received from this. I feel happy for the people that have, from a philosophical standpoint and a political standpoint, supported us over the years in terms of accomplishing this," he said.

Opening Day is usually largely ceremonial, and that won’t change. But both chambers plan to get to work much more quickly than in recent years.

WRAL.com will stream the opening ceremonies from both the House and Senate Wednesday beginning at noon.

Next week, Berger said, House and Senate lawmakers will start work on several action items. The first is a proposal to give Gov. Bev Perdue more power over the budget, something she’s asked for in the past. She has proposed to cut spending in the current fiscal year to give legislators more of a cushion moving into the 2011 budget.

Perdue spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson says the governor hasn’t yet seen the proposal, but is looking forward to learning more about it.

“She’s had conversations with them about ways to balance the budget earlier. This is all about positioning the state better for future fiscal years – it’s all about finding the efficiencies and savings we can now," Pearson said.

Charter schools will be another early action item. Berger said lawmakers will seek to eliminate the cap on the number of charter schools in the state.

And he said the proposal may include other policy changes, too, including the possibility of moving charter school oversight out of the Department of Public Instruction, an agency some charter advocates believe is hostile to their cause.

Big bills

The two biggest issues of the session are likely to be redistricting and the budget. Berger said he's hoping both will move quickly. He’s aiming for a May deadline for the new voter maps, so they can be approved by federal officials well in advance of next year’s elections.

Perdue will start the budget process with her State of the State speech and her spending plan, due sometime in early February. Then the House will take it up, and then the Senate.

The current budget shortfall is estimated at $3.7 billion. Berger insisted that the gap can be closed with cuts, but he conceded it will be a painful process.

“For anyone to suggest that any part of the state budget is going to be immune from consideration for reductions – for anyone to say that nobody’s going to be laid off, there are not gonna be any reductions, I think is unrealistic," he said.

A big chunk of that shortfall will come from the June expiration of the temporary 1 percent sales tax, passed by Democrats in 2009. A PPP poll released Monday shows 71percent of voters would support extending the tax if it would help ease cuts to services.

But Berger was adamant: “The only poll that I’m interested is the one that’s conducted in November every other year. And the poll that was taken then was loud and clear. The people said ‘Stop spending. Don’t raise taxes.’ It’s not something that will be part of our proposal," he said.

House Republicans are also pledging to let the temporary tax expire, and so is Perdue. But aside from that, her spokeswoman said everything’s on the table.

"We are all in this together. The governor has had encouraging conversations with the new leadership. Her top two priorities remain creating jobs and protecting education. But the budget looms over everything," Pearson said.

28 Comments

This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • Plenty Coups Jan 25, 2011

    It's pretty obvious you should cut spending and raise taxes. Watch what happens this next year if they just cut spending.

  • Bendal1 Jan 25, 2011

    My prediction: GOP proposes 20% cut across the board. Teachers and crime control advocates immediately start screaming "think of the childrun!" and "soft on crime!", and the next proposal is like this:

    Education: 5% cut
    Crime Control: 10% cut
    Everything else: 50% cut

    Then, once all those "non essential" services basically fall apart and voters are coming after the politicians with sharpened knives (metaphorically speaking), they'll look at each other and say "we did what you wanted us to do back in November 2010, why is everyone so upset?".

  • edbuck51 Jan 25, 2011

    every politican always mentions education as cornerstone of his budget proposal,but yet our kids are falling farther and farther behind, where is this money going again???

  • Mr. Middle of the Road Jan 25, 2011

    Two important topics deserving priority. Good start. Good luck to our new legislature.

  • Jim Britt Jan 25, 2011

    "Maybe the Repubs can start fixing our financial problems by working to pass a law restricting the personal freedom of consenting adults by telling gays they can't get married....or telling citizens what medical procedure they can and cannot do to their own body. I mean, isn't this the new Republican agenda for NC? So, surely it's all supposed to fix our economy and increase personal freedoms, right? ;-)"

    Don't forget raising revenue by cutting income. That's been a feature of Republican rule for as long as I can remember.

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Jan 25, 2011

    Maybe the Repubs can start fixing our financial problems by working to pass a law restricting the personal freedom of consenting adults by telling gays they can't get married....or telling citizens what medical procedure they can and cannot do to their own body. I mean, isn't this the new Republican agenda for NC? So, surely it's all supposed to fix our economy and increase personal freedoms, right? ;-)

  • Weaker Pelosi Jan 25, 2011

    The real problem with our budget is program after program after program after program.........

  • Road-wearier Jan 25, 2011

    "However, I still believe, that if you remove money from their pocket, they won't spend it."

    I have complete and utter faith that policitians will find a way to conjure up money for porky projects that they feel will get them re-elected. Bonds, lottery, whatever. They'll do it. They can't help themselves. They don't have the courage to make the hard cuts it's gonna take to close that budget gap...and it's going to take painful hard cuts that will raise the ire of the voters. So they won't do it. Various fees and licenses costs will rise, but those won't be tax hikes.

  • dlk13ster Jan 25, 2011

    “For anyone to say that nobody’s going to be laid off, there are not gonna be any reductions, I think is unrealistic," he said"

    My respect for Mr. Berger went up 12% when I heard this. At least the man is honest enough to admit, someone is going to get screwed.

    Still, ignoring the 71% of voters (myself included) who would rather see the 1% sales tax, rather than teacher, police, and EMT layoffs is a bad idea. IMHO, part of the reason NC is IN this mess in the first place, is that previous legislators (from BOTH parties) have been unable and UNWILLING to do what's necessary:

    Cut spending AND raise taxes BOTH. Doing just one OR the other is only solving 1/2 of the problem, like bailing out water instead of plugging the hole in the ship, or vice versa

    Sure, you can get away with one or the other for a WHILE (esp. if you do JUST enough to stay above water), but its easier, faster, & safer if you do BOTH; and in the long run, unless you DO do both, you're still in danger of sinking.

  • blackdog Jan 25, 2011

    For Sale: NC Public Schools

    Contact the NCGOP Legislature

More...