Berger responds to State of the State

March 9, 2009 Hello, my name is Phil Berger. I am the Republican Leader in the North Carolina Senate;

Times are tough. People across North Carolina are struggling to pay their bills, care for their children, support their churches, look after their friends and neighbors, and plan for their children's future. But North Carolinians are resilient, independent, hardworking people and if our elected leaders take a few prudent steps we will come out of this recession well positioned for the future.

Like many of you I know something about tough times, struggling to achieve, taking responsibility for self and family. I dropped out of college in 1971; shortly after that my wife, Pat, and I started a family, I worked in a grocery store and managed the produce department.

It didn't take long for me to understand that it was important to go back to school, which I did. I worked my way through Community College and then College and in 1980 we sold our house and moved with our two sons to Winston-Salem where I enrolled in Law School at Wake Forest.

Pat went to work at the University and I painted apartments. I finished Law School in 2 1/2 years.

After stints at a law firm in Charlotte and at the Court of Appeals in Raleigh we settled in Eden where I have practiced law for the last 25 years.

I tell you this not because it is an exceptional story. It isn't. I tell you this because my personal experience is like the experience of so many North Carolinians I've met as I've traveled our state.

You have heard a great deal about North Carolina's financial situation; about how state revenue collections are down; and about what that may mean for the state's budget, this year and next.

What you may not have heard is that over the past half dozen years Democratic leaders in North Carolina have adopted state budgets that have seen general fund spending grow by almost 50% and that even after this year's forced reduction of $2 billion caused by the slowing economy, the growth over that six year period will still be almost 35%. Even at the lower amount, state government will be spending $53 million every day, 7 days per week.

During the same six years, Democrats have also approved long term borrowing that has more than doubled our state's debt.

These rates of spending and borrowing can not be sustained. The current economic situation is an opportunity to get North Carolina's financial house in order. We must make tough decisions now in order to have a solid platform for building our future.

To hasten North Carolina's economic recovery we must acknowledge that the Democrat's budgets over the past 6 years are a major reason North Carolina is suffering more than most states and that our unemployment rate is among the highest in the country.

We can not fix the national economy, but we can keep our focus on the basics and we can put North Carolina in a position of advantage when the economy improves again.

Republicans understand that putting North Carolina back to work is Job one.

I believe it necessary to set out some principles; some fairly simple rules that state elected officials need to adhere to in making decisions for the people of our state, including decisions about the state budget.

First, there must be an understanding and recognition of the importance of your "family budget"; state government should not take action that fixes the state budget and harms and ignores the family budget; we can not allow the government budget to further stress already stretched families. The way to do that is to frankly and realistically appraise how much money the state has coming in, and spend that much and no more. This common sense, conservative approach is needed now more than ever.

Second, state government must focus on basic things; the real priorities for North Carolina's long term success – education, transportation, having a tax and regulatory climate that enables the private sector to create good jobs, and protecting the safety of our people and their property.

As I go around our state, I see one North Carolina – of parents and grandparents caring for their children and grandchildren, small business owners looking after their shops and stores, farmers and retirees concerned about their way of life, teachers and law enforcement personnel sensitive to the needs of those in their charge, wage earning laborers and professionals doing all they can to make tomorrow better than yesterday, all North Carolinians, all making up the fabric of their communities, and all impacted by decisions made by government.

It is critical for the Governor to bring forward and the legislature adopt a state budget that does not increase the tax burden on North Carolina's families. There are difficult decisions ahead; government leaders must remember this: if it's tough for the government, it is much tougher for the millions of people in North Carolina we work for. As we look at the state budget, we must remember that our state is full of families making great sacrifices. Leadership means a commitment that government shoulders its share of the pain and sacrifice.

I was pleased Friday to hear Governor Perdue reiterated her campaign promise not to raise taxes. This is a promise she must keep and Republicans are ready to do help sustain her veto of any budget Legislative Democrats pass that includes increased taxes and fees.

Republican legislators pledge to work with Governor Perdue and the Democratic leadership to fashion solutions. However we will support proposals only if they are in keeping with the principles I outlined earlier; protecting the family budget, a focus on core state functions, and appreciating that there is one North Carolina where we all live and work and, as we know, where the weak grow strong and the strong grow great.

As I close, please join me in recognizing and thanking the thousands of North Carolinians serving our country at home and abroad in the military. Every day these brave and selfless citizen soldiers place themselves in harm's way so that we may pursue our lives in relative peace. Over the past several years a number have made the ultimate sacrifice; we know that the next year will continue to be one of significant hardship for them and their families. We are blessed by their service and humbled by their selflessness.

Thank you and May God bless you and our great state.

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