01/20/11 — Republicans promise look at spending, cuts in 2011

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Republicans promise look at spending, cuts in 2011

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on January 20, 2011 1:46 PM

Faced with a $3.7 billion shortfall and with a determination that there will be "no sacred cows" in the state's 2011 biennium budget, Wayne County's Republican legislators nonetheless say they are looking forward to the start of the session on Jan. 26.

"I'm probably more excited about going up there and working on this budget and getting the state into a fiscally sound position than I was when I was first elected. I enjoy being able to help solve problems," Rep.-elect Stephen LaRoque, R-Lenoir, said.

And the reason he'll be able to be an active participant in helping shape the new budget and the state's new direction is because of the Republican Party's historic takeover of both the House and Senate -- the first time it's controlled both chambers in 112 years.

"The state of North Carolina has needed a change in leadership for years, and now we've got it," LaRoque said.

And that change means a different look a state budget that has grown by nearly $4 billion since LaRoque last served in the House in 2006.

"There's going to be some hard choices to be made," Rep. Efton Sager, R-Wayne said. "A lot of people in a lot of areas are going to be upset."

However, the Republican legislators -- including Sen.-elect Louis Pate, R-Wayne, and Sen. David Rouzer, R-Johnston -- despite the loss of federal stimulus dollars that were used to balance the budget last year, they say they will allow the temporary sales tax enacted in 2009 to expire as scheduled on June 30.

"We've been studying the issue and we're getting together a plan," said Pate, who formerly served in the House. "I think just about everybody's maxed out with cuts, but everything is going to be on the table to be looked at."

"There are no sacred cows," said both Rouzer and LaRoque, who has a list of more than $2 billion in potential cuts.

And to put the shortfall into perspective, Rouzer said the $3.7 billion was nearly equal to the budgets for the University of North Carolina system and the state's community college system.

One area, though, that most of the legislators did agree that needed to be protected was education, but only classroom education, not administrative costs -- "paper pushers" as LaRoque termed them.

Other areas of focus for the Legislature this year are expected to be regulatory and tax reform.

"Regulatory reform is also going to be front and center," Rouzer said. "We can create a better business climate if we can reform regulations that are counter-productive, duplicating and unnecessary. We also need to reform the tax code so that it's fair. We believe everybody should have some skin in the game -- a broader base, but with lower tax rates."

And all of that -- a smaller, balanced budget and regulatory and tax reform -- comes back to the issue of job creation.

"Because if you have a better business climate, the more economic development you have, and the more economic development you have the more jobs will be created," Rouzer said.

Additionally, the Legis-lature is expected to look at a forced annexation moratorium and reform effort, while Sager said he plans to be involved in legislation to require voter identification at the polls and LaRoque, legislation to lower the number of signatures required to place a candidate or party on an electoral ballot. LaRoque also said he plans to introduce legislation to allow public officials to carry concealed firearms anywhere except on federal property where they are specifically banned.

And more locally, Sager said he plans to introduce a bill to give back to the Wayne County Board of Education the ability to appoint its own members when necessary.

Also on the agenda this year will be redistricting based on the 2010 census, though legislators said they didn't know yet how that process would work or how their districts might be affected.

One thing they did know, though, is that they plan to be home by the beginning of the 2011 fiscal year, which starts on July 1.

"We hope (Gov. Beverly Perdue) will have (her budget proposal) to us at least by the first or second week of February. We have committed to being out by the end of June," Sager said.

And unlike years past when it sometimes took weeks before any real work began, they said, legislative leaders are already beginning to make committee and office assignments.

In the Senate, Pate is the co-chairman of the Health Care Committee and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services -- appointments he said he's pleased with because of the large presence of health care industries in Wayne, Greene and Pitt counties. Also in the Senate, Rouzer is the co-chairman of the Agricultural and Environ-ment Committee and the Natural and Economic Resources Subcommittee, which oversees the purse strings of the Commerce Department, Labor Depart-ment, Department of Natural and Environmental Resources and more -- allowing him to focus on his regulatory reform efforts.