Berger calls for business support against groups opposed to the GOP agenda
North Carolina Republican Sen. Phil Berger, the incoming president of the state Senate, called on state business leaders Monday to stand against advocacy groups that will try to blunt the Republican majority’s plans for steep budget cuts, rollbacks in environmental regulation and changes in civil law.
Berger, speaking at The 9th Annual Economic Forecast Forum in Durham, asserted that the new GOP majority in both legislative chambers will close a projected $3.7 billion deficit without new taxes or an extension of temporary taxes that are due to expire this year. He said the Republican agenda will include easing the environmental permitting process and pushing for tort reforms that limit medical malpractice awards.
Berger, the first Republican Senate president in over 100 years, spoke to an overflow crowd of 1,100 business executives, lobbyists and state officials at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel. He said that the business community must support Republicans when they come under fire from advocates for human services, consumer protection and environmental regulation. The legislative session will open Jan. 26.
“Now we know that there are advocacy groups that are dependent of continued high levels of state spending. There are advocacy groups that like the regulatory environment that we have. There are advocacy groups out there that think we don’t need to make any changes in our court system.
“They will be united in opposing a number of the initiatives that we’re talking about. We need a united business community as we take steps to reduce spending, lower taxes and reform North Carolina’s regulatory environment … the business community must do its part. I have confidence that you will.”
Berger’s tone contrasted with the recent overtures by Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue. She has offered to cut state spending through a reorganization of the government and a freeze on most hiring. Berger said he appreciates the governor’s proposals, but he made no suggestion that he would meet Democrats midway on issues favored by his party.
The legislative leadership’s decision to take an adamant stand on no new taxes and no extensions of temporary sales and income taxes will mean deeper cuts in human services and education.
Berger said the tough stand was necessary because Democrats grew the budget in boom years when tax revenues were up and “built in deficits” when economic downturns reduced revenues.
Alexandra Forter Sirota, director of the NC Budget & Tax Center — part of the NC Justice Center, said Republicans are mistaken in blaming the budget deficit on overspending.
“Understanding the cause of the budget shortfall as a spending problem is not right,” she said. “We know that North Carolina is spending less on a per capita basis than it was 14 years ago.”
Sirota said the state could save money by closing tax breaks for business rather than cutting spending on individuals. She said state spending that provides job training for the unemployed or day care subsidies so parents can keep their jobs helps “the broader economy to prosper.” Sirota wrote a report released last month that found that proposed state cuts would cost the state 21,000 jobs.
Although North Carolina has generally been lauded for its pro-business climate, Berger said the state must strip away regulations and lower taxes to make North Carolina more competitive with other states in attracting new businesses.
“Many thing can be done to make North Carolina a business-friendly state,” he said. “We are not able to compete in terms of our regulatory climate.”
After it addresses the state’s spending issues, Berger said the Republican majority will turn to reducing income taxes on individuals and corporations and cutting the capital gains tax.
…quality public universities, moderate-sized classrooms, new companies in NC, anyone with a hope of finding a good job, clean water at OBX, clean air in the mountains, protection for victims of hate crimes, teachers…