RALEIGH — Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue and Republicans traded verbal jabs today over who’s getting the state economy back on track, a sign of their increasingly frayed relations heading into rough-and-tumble budget negotiations and the 2012 campaign.
Perdue and Senate leader Phil Berger held dueling news conferences to defend how each of them was working to create an environment for job creation. The most recent state unemployment rate stood at 9.7 percent.
Perdue, at state Commerce Department headquarters in front of placards showing dozens of companies that have come to North Carolina or expanded since taking office, said legislative Republicans are too focused on social issues and urged them to focus on creating jobs and improving public education.
While Republicans legislators have been working on a state budget, they’ve also taken up bills that challenge the federal health care overhaul law, would allow carrying concealed pistols into parks and more restaurants and would require photo identification to vote in person. She also pointed out more unusual bills, such as one to study whether North Carolina should have its own currency.
“I urge you to put aside these other issues and focus on sending to me a budget that funds education and funds job creation and funds job development,” Perdue said. “I don’t mean to come across as the adult in the room, but somebody has to be the adult and stand up. We’ve really, really got to focus on the core: jobs and education.”
Earlier in the day, Berger questioned the motives of Perdue, who’s been spending the past two weeks at a series of public events to promote education and the economy while announcing business expansions. He mentioned that the overall number of jobs in the state has declined by more than 113,000 positions since Perdue took office in early 2009.
Perdue is running for re-election in November 2012. All 170 legislative seats also will be on the ballot at the same time.
“The one job the Gov. Perdue is worried about is her own,” Berger told reporters at a news conference.
Berger said that while Republican lawmakers are assembling a jobs bill, they can’t flip a switch to create jobs. Rather, he said, the GOP is fashioning a budget that cuts spending and will build confidence within the business community. He blamed Democrats for making the recession deeper in North Carolina than it should have been through a decade of increased spending. Perdue has supported policies that helped exacerbate problems over a 25-year career in state government, he said.
“That correction will take more than eight weeks. It will not be completed in eight months,” Berger said. “The most important thing that we can do to create jobs in North Carolina is to get this state’s checkbook balanced, to get the state on a spending plan that matches the revenue plan that we have. If we do that, the confidence that the private sector has in the future will increase.”
Perdue responded that she and other Democrats closed a $4.6 billion shortfall between projected revenues and expenses in fiscal year 2009 during a recession she said was “caused by the meltdown in the global economy.” She said she’s optimistic that the state is turning the corner, pointing out the number of jobs being created through Commerce Department recruitment and targeted economic incentives.
Perdue traveled later today to Yadkin County, where she announced a manufacturer of environmentally friendly batteries would build a plant there that would create 61 jobs. The company is receiving a $200,000 grant from one of Perdue’s incentive funds.
Berger said Republicans aren’t unified on whether targeted incentives are useful for long-term economic development. But he said it’s certainly “a strategy that enables politicians to stand in front of ribbon and cut ribbons. It’s clearly not a successful strategy as far as North Carolina is concerned over the last two years.”
Republicans and Perdue do agree on some ways to bolster the economy. They both have said they want to lower the corporate income tax rate and reduce costly regulatory burdens on small business. Perdue’s budget would reduce the corporate tax rate from 6.9 percent to 4.9 percent and she’s presented to legislators a pile of outdated and unnecessary rules to eliminate. The General Assembly also has been holding public hearings seeking ways to reduce government red tape.