Newsmaker: Senator Phil Berger
As the North Carolina senate prepares its own version of next year’s budget, the state’s most powerful senator from Guilford and Rockingham counties explains what he wants to cut.
Phil Berger, in his sixth term, became Senate President Pro-Tem when he and his fellow Republicans overtook the majority in the 2010 election.
Berger said North Carolina’s biggest challenge is finances — “to get the state’s checkbook balanced,” as he put it.
He said the state got into a $2.4 billion budget deficit by “committing the state to spend on programs, personnel and various things at levels that exceed the revenue that’s available.”
Berger blames the deficit on Gov. Bev Perdue and her fellow Democrats, who he accuses of offsetting spending with temporary sales and income tax hikes, among other things.
“It is our belief that we can increase economic activity in North Carolina, we can address the jobs situation through the private sector in North Carolina by lowering our taxes. We think we send absolutely the wrong message by increasing taxes, whatever taxes they are at this time,” Berger said.
The state constitution mandates a balanced budget, meaning tax cuts require in cuts somewhere else.
Nothing has brought out more passion like proposed education cuts. Berger said he and his colleagues are committed to keeping as many teachers on the job as possible.
“We’re looking at reductions in the administrative level. We’re looking at reductions at the Department of Public Instruction. We’re looking at reductions that will be within the local districts,” Berger said.
Berger said the administrative positions do help teachers do their jobs but also said, “It’s our belief that you can reduce many of those spending levels and not adversely affect the quality in education.”
In higher education, Berger said campus administrators have been told to find their own reductions, and many have.
“When all is said and done, the in-state residents in our public institutions will still have the best bargain in the nation,” Berger said.
It won’t be easy for Berger to get his way on the budget and other matters. While the senate has a veto-proof majority, the house does not — at least not yet.