Phil Berger: ‘Moral’ budget agenda too expensive to accomplish

June 26, 2014 

In response to the June 21 Point of View “ A moral budget for North Carolina” by Rev. William Barber: Voters elected Republicans majorities to the General Assembly in 2010 and again in 2012 based on a platform to revitalize North Carolina’s economy, jump-start job growth and balance a $2.5 billion deficit we inherited. We promised to reduce the state tax burden on families and small businesses, control government spending and improve student outcomes through public education reform.

We have followed through on our commitments, and today we are seeing positive results: Close to a quarter of a million net new jobs and an unemployment rate that has gone down more than 4 percent. More people are working in North Carolina than ever before, and state funding for our public schools is at the highest level ever. We appreciate the positive response we received from millions of voters who not only preserved – but expanded – our legislative majorities and elected the first Republican governor in decades.

At the same time, we understand there are people who disagree on the best way to move our state forward. For the last year, Barber has led a vocal group of protesters in expressing displeasure with our policy decisions with about a thousand people getting arrested. While I strongly support their First Amendment rights, I am concerned that over-the-top rhetoric and a stated mission to get arrested by disrupting the work we were elected to do undermine serious and substantive debate.

That’s why I reached out to Barber several months ago to request a specific and comprehensive list of his policy goals. I received in response a 14-point agenda that outlined broad and, in some respects, laudable goals, but lacked details about how the state could practically and realistically implement them. It also included other objectives that are inconsistent with the promises we made to voters.

Still, we analyzed his agenda and asked the legislature’s nonpartisan central staff to draft a budget amendment to accomplish it. Our staff determined the 14-point agenda would add more than $7 billion to the state budget and would require raising the corporate income tax rate nearly tenfold, from 6 percent to 50 percent.

Earlier this month, I met with a group of protesters who staged a sit-in outside my legislative office and explained that Senate Republicans could not support such a massive tax increase due to the devastating effect it would have on North Carolina jobs. I also explained we could not repeal the tax reforms and reductions we promised to working families and job creators that have already become law.

Rescinding those tax cuts is what Barber demands, based on the analysis of a well-known liberal special interest group. But taking more money, in this case approximately a billion dollars, from the pockets of North Carolinians would not even begin to cover the cost of his agenda.

My colleagues and I respect the passion Barber and his followers have for their agenda, and we believe we share the common goal to make our state a better place. But I am disappointed when Barber chooses to rely on exaggerated and divisive rhetoric. The fact is, the bipartisan Senate budget includes overall spending increases to keep pace with inflation, boosts funding for public schools and provides for the largest teacher pay raise in state history.

Perhaps most telling is that, to date, no member of either party has offered legislation to accomplish Barber’s agenda.

Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger


The writer, a Republican, represents North Carolina District 26. The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response.

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