Berger: 'Everything's on the table'

Senate Leader Phil Berger isn't ready to talk budget specifics yet, but he says state layoffs and pay and benefit cuts are inevitable.

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Laura Leslie

Well, almost everything.

At his weekly press conference today, Senate Leader Phil Berger fielded a lot of questions about the budget. But he wasn’t yet ready to offer specifics about where budget-writers will find $3.7 billion in cuts needed to balance the state’s coffers.

Some of the options he said are under consideration include:

  • Cutting optional Medicaid services.  (This requires federal approval, since federal dollars cover much of the cost of those services.)
  • Reductions in pay for state employees.
  • Instituting premiums for state employee health insurance. (State workers currently pay premiums for dependents, but not for themselves.)

As reporters pushed him for specifics, Berger pulled back. “Everything’s on the table,” he said. “We’ve ultimately got to get from where we are now as far as a level of spending to a level that’s 18 percent lower. I think all of the things you’re mentioning end up being part of that mix.”

“There’s no way we get there without salary reductions, layoffs, reductions of certain services,” he continued. “The specific provisions have not yet been determined, but I don’t think anybody should be under the illusion that you’re not going to see those kinds of things, ultimately.”

One thing that probably won’t be part of that mix, Berger said, is privatizing the state's Alcoholic Beverage Control system.  Proponents say privatization could bring an influx of badly-needed cash into state coffers.  But many, including Berger, have voiced concerns that it would be only a short-term benefit.   He said that won’t be an area the Senate will focus on this session.

Berger also talked about S13, the bill that would give Governor Bev Perdue the power to hold back spending in state agencies she doesn’t control, including the Department of Public Instruction, the UNC system, and the Dept. of Agriculture.

Perdue has already imposed a 2.5 percent reversion, or hold-back, for this fiscal year in the agencies she controls. She’s seeking the power to impose the same cuts throughout state government – but at this point, halfway through the fiscal year, they’d need to cut 5 percent to catch up.

Officials at DPI say a 5 percent cut could translate to more than 4000 teaching jobs lost. Berger called that “feasible,” but said lawmakers won’t push Perdue to cut more than that.  The target for current-year cuts is $400 million. It could be on the Senate floor by Thursday.

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