Table of Contents January 2014
Phil Berger, our Mover and Shaker of the Year, stayed the course to shift the state's direction.
By Jack Betts
Bob Rucho was mad. For more than a year, he had worked on a comprehensive tax-reform bill that would change North Carolina’s antiquated revenue system in dramatic ways — including an end to tax breaks for special interests, a proposal sparking heartburn in virtually every tax lobbyist in Raleigh. But Gov. Pat McCrory and House Speaker Thom Tillis, both fellow Republicans from Mecklenburg County, had backed away from his plan in favor of a compromise that included some of his ideas but didn’t go nearly as far. So on June 13, a riled-up Rucho did an unusual and some would say rash thing: He resigned as co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. In a letter to the man who appointed him — Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger — he cited their “fundamental disagreement on the most effective model of tax reform,” then unloaded on McCrory and Tillis, who he claimed lacked “the political backbone to fight special interest groups.”
Picking a fight with the Senate’s top leader might seem a way to wind up in a tiny office in the bowels of the Legislative Building. But Berger didn’t bite. “I hereby respectfully decline to accept your resignation … ,” he replied, signing his letter: “Loyally, Phil.” What could have been a nasty public split blew over. Rucho was soon back in the fold, supporting legislation — much of it shepherded by Berger — that shifted the direction of state government sharply rightward. Over the course of the 2013 long session, the General Assembly adopted a strong voter-ID requirement that also compressed the time for early voting, did away with regulations Republicans believed got in the way of business, slowed the growth of the state budget, approved vouchers to send children to private schools, restricted access to abortions and imposed a flat-rate income tax — the first significant tax reform in decades.
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