News: CJ Exclusives

Incoming GOP Leader: No New Taxes, All Budget Cuts on the Table

Berger aims to finish legislative session by the end of June

Presumptive Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, a Republican from Eden, sat down with reporters Jan. 24 to answer a broad range of questions on the upcoming session of the General Assembly. Carolina Journal has compiled excerpts from his answers to some top issues that lawmakers will face:

•On the budget process: “From a big picture standpoint, it’ll look a lot like it has in the past. The House will deal with the budget, the Senate, and we’ll go from there. The difference that we’ll see is the cooperation that will occur at the subcommittee level between the House and the Senate, in terms of where we will see the budget going as far as levels of spending and particular issues that are dealt with. And I think that’s primarily because, hopefully, the House members and the Senate members are more philosophically aligned than maybe has been in the past.”

“We’ll see a budget come out of the House that the Senate probably will not make many changes to. In the past, it’s almost been a completely different budget. You’ve had three different versions — the governor’s version, the House version, and the Senate version. I think the House version and the Senate version will be very, very similar. That’s certainly our expectation. That will enable us to do things sooner so that whatever the differences are, if there are any, we can work out faster.”

• On the budget deficit: “The one thing that is staring us right in the face is the fact that we are left with a $3.7 billion difference between recurring spending and recurring revenue. For anyone to suggest that any part of the state budget is going to be immune from consideration for reductions, they’re not looking at the situation in a realistic fashion. Where those cuts will take place will be part of the process that we’ll have to go through. How many people may get laid off, the numbers, where they’ll be, again, is something that will require more deliberative process than has been engaged in up to this point.”

• On expiring temporary taxes: “Increases in taxes are not something that we are going to have as part of what we deal with in the budget. Continuation of the so-called ‘temporary taxes’ is not something that will be part of our proposal. I’ve said it this way: We intend to keep the promise the Democrats made two years ago when they said that they were temporary taxes.”

• On redistricting: “One of the goals that we have is to draw maps that comply with the law, that will be approved under the Voting Rights Act, and that will be in place so that the state of North Carolina can conduct elections under the maps, drawn by the people who were elected by the voters in the recent election, in time that we don’t have to delay next year’s elections.”

• On supporting the University of North Carolina system: “It’s hard for me to say whether or not you’ll see going forward a perception amongst people outside as to whether or not the universities are getting a better deal or the K-12 education system is getting a better deal or community colleges are getting a better deal. It seems to me that we have an obligation to make sure that all three of those legs are properly funded and perform the function for which the people of North Carolina expect those institutions to exist.”

• On video poker: “It’s our belief that the problem is not inadequate revenue in any respect with reference to the state budget. We have, over the years, indicated that our belief was that the state budget was growing in ways faster than necessary to maintain a level of services … The idea of throwing up video poker or some other proposal to so-call ‘bridge the gap’ is one that I don’t know that I agree with the underlying premise of.”

• On social issues: “There will be bills introduced by members that deal with protection of traditional marriage, that deal with some abortion issues. We do not intend to focus on those issues until we have addressed the issue that we believe that voters elected Republicans to deal with, and that is the very serious fiscal issues that are facing the state. Once we’ve addressed those issues, once we’ve addressed redistricting … then other bills that have been introduced will wind their way through as you would expect.”

• On when the session will end: “Our goal is to finish the session by the end of June.”

• On the historic nature of the GOP taking control of the General Assembly for the first time since Reconstruction: “I feel humbled by the attention that we’ve received from this. I feel happy for the people that have, from a philosophical and political standpoint, supported us over the years in terms of accomplishing this.”

David N. Bass is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.