Reaction from lawmakers to Gov. Easley's budget is now coming fast and furious. Appropriations members were briefed Tuesday by Easley's staff. Republicans are predictably upset that Easley is spending too much and are particularly upset the sales and income taxes that were supposed to stop in 2003 will again not stop this year. Democrats are concerned that Easley's bond package does not include anything for school construction. While Easley said his bond package has things the state must do, lawmakers are clearly hearing it from the rank and file voters to do something on the state level.
Republicans clearly want their voice heard this session and they appear to want to appear more unified if that makes sense. Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger has hired someone to send out press releases and I usually get at least two a week if not more and often it's on behalf of other lawmakers. Republicans have already held at least three press conferences as well. It's clear they are going to go to the media to prove to their voters they are trying to make changes and Democrats aren't listening. Below is one of those releases from Sen. Berger's office.
"Senate Republican Leader Phil Berger (R-District 26) and House Republican Leader Paul Stam (R-District 37) today hosted a press conference in the legislative press room. Representative Stam spoke first to address ethics reform and House rules. Senator Berger continued with his impressions of Governor Easley's proposed budget and specifically discussed fiscal issues, education and transportation.
Senator Berger made the following remarks:
1) Despite statements that highlight minimal tax reductions, the budget proposal actually contains a tax increase of more than $500 million over the two year period. Current North Carolina law provides more than $600 million in broad based tax relief over the next two years; the Governor's budget plan scraps that substantial relief and endorses a tax increase of over $500 million for the two year budget cycle. All this while the projection is the state will collect more than $825 million in excess taxes this fiscal year. We are not surprised, as this will represent the sixth time in the last seven years that state taxes have been raised. The reason for the tax hike is clear as general fund spending for the 2007-2008 fiscal year jumps to a record $20.066 billion and represents an increase of at least 6.4%; an increase that exceeds that needed to keep pace with inflation and population growth. Despite talk of fiscal discipline, the numbers speak clearly of a continuing policy and philosophy of tax and spend.
2) Education spending in the Governor's proposal continues a strategy that has given us dropout rates of 35%+ overall and in excess of 50% for minority populations. It is past time for us to implement a new strategy in education, one that concentrates a high percentage of new dollars to dropout prevention, an increase in vocational options, and reading improvement. We need to increase emphasis on differential pay for teachers in high need areas of math, science, and special education and institute a merit pay plan that rewards results. We can not continue to tread the same path - spending hundreds of millions of more dollars on the same failed approach.
3) It is difficult to understand the Governor's failure to continue to send 170 plus million in road taxes from the Highway Trust Fund to the General Fund. With all of the demonstrated needs in transportation (maintenance, repairs, and construction) we simply must do better."