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GOP-led legislature begins with budget, maps ahead

Posted January 26, 2011
Updated January 27, 2011

— The General Assembly returned to work Wednesday, two months after a seismic shift in North Carolina politics that brought Republicans into power in both chambers.

Legislators arrived to face painful budget choices and redraw district boundaries that could aid the GOP while trying to retain their new advantage for another decade.

The legislature opened its two-year session at noon with Republicans holding an 11-seat advantage in the Senate and 16 in the House, ending Democratic control of one or both chambers continuously since 1898.

"This is a historic moment for this body and our state, but this is just a moment," said Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, who was quickly elected as the chamber's president pro tempore.

"History will judge us based on the substance of this session, not this moment," Berger said.

In the House, Republican Rep. Thom Tillis of Mecklenburg County had to withstand a challenge from Democratic Rep. Joe Hackney of Orange County, the incumbent House speaker, for the speakership.

"I like bringing the best out of people and making them be as successful as they want to be," Tillis said. "It's what I did at Price Waterhouse, at IBM and that's what I hope to do, what I will do here at the legislature." 

Tillis' previous political experience included two years as a town commissioner. 

"We've got people in the caucus that have forgotten more than I'll ever learn," he said. 

Six Democrats joined all 68 Republicans in voting for Tillis.

"It's just like a dream come true," said Rep. Harold Brubaker, R-Randolph, the longest-serving Republican in the General Assembly.

"My first term, in 1977, I was one of six Republicans in the House, and there were two Republican state senators," Brubaker said. "To see both chambers becoming Republican majority, I never thought I'd live to see that day, but it's here."

Historic occasion brings crowds

Berger's ascendancy to Senate president pro tem ended a record 18 years of power for Sen. Marc Basnight, D-Dare, who resigned Tuesday from the Senate.

2011 legislative session opens Historic legislative session draws crowds

"I've garnered a good bit of experience over a number of years," said Berger, who is in his sixth-term. 

Tillis, who in only his third House term, rose the ladder quickly as minority whip to help knock more than a dozen Democrats out of office on Election Day 2010.

Tillis handed out red wristbands with the words "Jobs" and "Economy" on them to all House members. He said the message was to remind them of the priority for the legislative session.

"Any time you find yourself focused on something other than that," he said, "snap that band until the feeling goes away because we have to remain focused."

The galleries in the House and Senate were standing-room only on Wednesday, as people gathered to watch history in the making.

"I just felt I had to be here today. I wouldn't have been anywhere else today. This is a day that's never been in my lifetime," spectator Donna Lay said.

Lawmakers rented large flat-screen televisions and placed them throughout the building so that people who couldn't get into the gallery could still watch the opening-day ceremonies.

"When you get to be 76 years old, you're cramming for finals. There's not a whole lot of time on the other end. But I have children and grandchildren, and I have a great deal of interest," spectator Buzz Cayden said.

Special-interest groups were among the crowds. Educators wore red as a sign of opposition to expected cuts to the K-12 budget, and a couple dozen members of the tea party staged a rally outside the Legislative Building to support GOP plans to cut state spending.

Balancing budget will be tough

Lawmakers face the difficult task this year of closing a budget gap for the third straight year, the result of tax collections slow to rebound in the recovery from a recession that keeps the state unemployment rate close to 10 percent.

Thom Tillis New legislative leaders have same mission

The projected shortfall for the year starting July 1 is $3.7 billion – nearly 20 percent of the current year's budget and a size that members of both parties and Gov. Beverly Perdue have said will probably lead to state employee or teacher job layoffs and cuts to services.

"State government and state employees will have to do more with less as we work to right-size state government," Berger said. "It's not going to be easy, but streamlining state government will pay dividends in the long run."

Federal stimulus money has dried up, and Republican lawmakers pledged in the fall campaign not to extend a pair of temporary tax increases approved by the Democratic-led legislature and Perdue in 2009.

"I believe government needs to be as small as possible to provide for people's safety, to provide for education and to provide for infrastructure – and not much else," Tillis said.

2011 legislative session opens Historic legislative session draws crowds

Perdue said Tuesday she's unsure if her budget proposal to the legislature will extend or sunset the taxes. But in the new reality at the Legislative Building, the views of a Democratic governor matter less. Republicans are within four votes of having the luxury to send veto-proof legislation to Perdue's desk.

Still, Perdue and Republicans leaders are cautiously optimistic about working on some issues.

"It would be very disingenuous of any of us before the new session even starts to say there are these things that I'm absolutely going to veto," the governor said Tuesday.

One thing she can't veto are bills that change the boundaries of legislative and congressional district boundaries.

GOP leaders in charge of the maps say they'll draw fair districts, but Democrats in charge of the boundaries for decades aren't so sure. Republicans won't seek to place themselves in a worse position, which should help them at navigating toward a majority through 2020.

With Wednesday's elections and ceremonies out of the way, Republicans say they will soon get to work carrying out their platform. House Majority Leader Paul Stam said a judiciary committee would meet Thursday to consider a bill designed to prevent North Carolina residents from being penalized for not obtaining health insurance, a requirement of the year-old national health care overhaul.

114 Comments

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  • josephlawrence43 Jan 27, 2:43 p.m.

    Perhaps now we can get at least one elected leader to look at the issue of illegal aliens and the $1.3 Billion they cost the taxpayers of North Carolina each year.

  • vernestrickland Jan 27, 1:40 p.m.

    It's wonderful to finally see the GOP in control in the North Carolina legislature. We expect of them all that NC citizens were denied during the long and demagogic reign of the Democrats. This includes honesty and transparency in government, de-fanging special interests, restoring fiscal sanity, and Christian principles, led by the "loss" of curmudgeon Joe Hackney as Speaker. I will pray for Joe in the name of Jesus Christ. Let the games begin! This is going to be fun. And productive. Congratulations GOP! We're proud of you!

  • JustAName Jan 27, 10:50 a.m.

    "Well you are forced by law to have auto insurance and homeowners insurance, etc..., whats the differance? "

    You don't have to have a car or a house. Not all states require the same amount of insurance for cars. If you don't have a mortgage, who is forcing you to have homeowner's insurance? You aren't forced to have renters insurance.

  • Dukefan1 Jan 27, 10:35 a.m.

    Members of Congress should not even get health care coverage from us the taxpayer. They are all rich and can afford to get coverage on their own. That's one way to cut the deficit.

  • jscletsplay1002002 Jan 27, 10:34 a.m.

    @whatelseisnew

    Well you are forced by law to have auto insurance and homeowners insurance, etc..., whats the differance?
    I dont hear anyone talking about them and complaining about them and what damage they cause to everyone. From all that I read, the healthcare bill would be basically the same as you having to have automobile insurance to have a drivers licence or Home owners insurance for you to purchase a home.

  • Dukefan1 Jan 27, 10:31 a.m.

    The government requires EVERYONE to purchase car insurance. You can't buy a house without homeowners insurance. What is so bad about requiring everyone to have health insurance? It would certainly hold the cost down from all the uninsured heading to the ER every time they get sick. Let's get to the main reason you are against the health care reform bill....it's because you are a Republican and it wasn't your party that enacted it. Pure and simple! There are many many people who are in agreement with the bill passing.

  • jscletsplay1002002 Jan 27, 10:28 a.m.

    All politions are the same, no matter what view they have -

    in 1981 Ronald R's budget director David Stockman admitted to sen Daniel Patrick Moynihan, that running up "strategic deficits" was a useful political tool, it gives an argument for cutting back programs that really werent desired or wanted(by the republicans) - they can enable opponents of public investment to "sound compasionate", providing them with opportunities to use prases like "We cant steal from our children to pay for our short term desires" to oppose gov spending.
    * above from independant weekly 1/26/11 jonathan weiler page 5*

    good read

  • gunny462 Jan 27, 10:26 a.m.

    "The federal plan is as much a part of "Obamacare" as Medicaid/Medicare or anything else. There is no obamacare public option plan"

    ?? Do you have any idea what you're talking about?? I have Tri-Care which is in esscense the same as the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

    http://www.opm.gov/insure/health/

  • WHEEL Jan 27, 10:24 a.m.

    CUT, CUT, CUT, CUT, then cut some more. Anyone who cannot find 20% overstaffing in every State agency isn't looking. It's not at the working end of the stick, it's in the unbelievable levels of so-called management.

  • tropicalgirl Jan 27, 10:16 a.m.

    Just because you're not getting some sort of assistance check from the state does not mean that massive cuts to the budget that include significant layoffs will not affect you in some way. State workers conduct gas station inspections that ensure you're not ripped off at the pump, repair roads and inspect bridges you drive on, and guard prisons that keep criminals away from the rest of us. The mental health system has been decimated which means more mentally ill are out there among us all. Cuts clearly need to be made in government but those cuts will affect everyone in North Carolina in some way. When 15,000 to 20,000 state workers join the unemployment line, that will jeopardize the fragile system that all unemployed workers rely on while they seek employment. There is definitely fat to cut in some areas but unfortunately, we're going to lose muscle and bone too. Keeping the sales tax for one more year means still cutting $2.7 million but it buys more time for the economy to improve.

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