Senator Berger Message

How Will the Budget Affect Our Communities?

Rep. Michael Wray and I will hold a public forum on the proposed House budget and its impact on four key areas of our district. The forum is slated for 7-9 p.m. Thursday, May 12, at the old courthouse in Henderson, 122 Young St.

Speakers will be:

  • · Carolyn Paylor, executive director of Franklin-Granville-Vance Partnership for Children, will speak on the Smart Start program. For more information on Smart Start, click here. The proposed budget, if passed, will cut 20 percent of the program’s budget across the state.
  • · Dr. Timothy Farley, superintendent of Granville County Schools, will address the House budget’s impact on public schools, which are looking at a nearly 9 percent reduction in spending and the possible loss of 21,000 educators and support staff in North Carolina.
  • · Valerie Hennicke, director of the Five-County Mental Health Authority will speak on the impact of the budget on mental health care in the district.
  • · Cindy Bostic, an assistant district attorney from Oxford, will speak on the impact of the budget on the criminal justice system.

Speakers will have approximately 15 minutes for comments, followed by a question-and-answer period from the audience.

Auto Insurance Changes Sent to Study Committee

The Senate Insurance Committee considered two bills this week aimed at overhauling regulation of automobile insurance rates. Changing automobile insurance regulation is a complex issue, but understanding three basic principles are critical: (1) NC automobile owners are required by law to have minimum limits of liability insurance coverage to protect persons who may be injured by a driver’s negligence, (2) because auto insurance is mandatory, insurance companies cannot refuse to write policies, and (3) to prevent unreasonable rates for mandatory coverage, the Commissioner of Insurance sets automobile liability insurance rates.

Advocates for both bills contend that current regulation penalizes good drivers to subsidize high risk drivers and that eliminating or limiting the power of the Insurance Commissioner to regulate rates would provide competition lowering rates.  Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin and some insurance companies disagree. They note that North Carolina’s auto liability rates are the lowest in the South and the eighth-lowest in the United States.  Commissioner Goodwin strongly contends that passage of either of the two bills would lead to substantial rate increases for all drivers.

The new legislation would do away with the insurance point system that now dictates who is high risk, and one of the bills gives the power to the insurance companies to determine who should be charged higher rates. In addition, the other bill allows insurance companies to raise rates, on average, 15 percent per year with little to no regulation over those rate hikes.

During the Committee deliberations, I asked if both bills would effectively raise rates for younger drivers with safe driving records.  Senator Rucho, Republican from Mecklenburg County and the primary sponsor of the bill that would take away Commissioner Goodwin’s power to regulate rates, admitted that younger drivers would pay more for insurance and also added that senior citizens would also pay higher rates.

As a result, the Committee declined to vote on either bill, creating a study committee to consider the impact both bills would have on insurance rates. Senator Apodaca, Republican from Henderson County and the Chairman of the Insurance Committee, requested that I serve on the group assigned to study this matter.  Senator Rucho informed me that the group would be expected to make recommendations on whether to move forward on this legislation during the short session next year.

We should carefully consider all proposals that would improve the system of insurance regulation in the State and consider changes that make insurance rates paid by individuals fair.  However, given the low rates that North Carolinians are currently paying for automobile liability insurance, we must ensure that changing the system would actually provide lower rates that are fair and reasonable.  I will continue to ask all of the questions necessary to ensure that any changes meet those objectives.

View Senate Bill 477 and Senate Bill 490.

Voices of the Unemployed

A year and a half ago, Greg Smith was making $50-60,000 a year as a local truck driver in Franklin County. Today, he is worried about putting together enough gas money to drive to Zebulon for a job interview for a $10-an-hour manufacturing job making $10. He’s about to lose the home that he only has a year’s worth of payments left to make.

Smith is one of 37,000 long-term unemployed North Carolinians who lost their extended benefits April 16 when the General Assembly failed to pass a provision recalculating the unemployment rate so that federal funds could be available for 20 more weeks. He came to Raleigh on Wednesday to express his frustration over the loss of benefits and his inability to find work.

Approximately a dozen residents from across the state joined Smith at a public hearing sponsored by Senate Democrats. Kenneth Williams, a laid off respiratory therapist from Wilson County, gave an impassioned plea for the new majority to stop holding hostage the recalculation bill. Republicans passed a bill allowing for the recalculation and, therefore, continuation of benefits, but it was attached to a resolution that would have tied Gov. Perdue’s hands in negotiating a budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The resolution would have the state budget running at 13 percent less than the governor’s budget for a year if the new 2011-13 budget plan was not agreed on by June 30 (a move that by itself would mean tens of thousands of teachers and other state employees would be laid off). Gov. Perdue vetoed the bill, and Democrats have offered a “free-standing” bill that specifically addresses extending the benefits—and that only. The majority’s bill that would cut the budget by an additional 13 percent would be catastrophic to the state because Gov. Perdue has already proposed a reasonable budget that includes cuts to many programs.

So for now, Smith is looking at a $251 electric bill and a cutoff date for today. He’s sending out up to 12 resumes a day. He visits the Employment Security Commission office in Louisburg so often, the staff is on a first-name basis with him. He’s working on a bachelor’s degree that he should have wrapped up in six months.

“You know, (unemployed people) are not just laying around at home. Most of us are doing what we’re supposed to do,” he said. “I never worked so hard in my life since I’ve been unemployed. When I was working, you get time for yourself, but when you’re unemployed, you’re always searching for a job. I go to bed worried, wondering if my son will have a roof over his head.”

There is one other thing bothering Smith. “The magical thing to do is (provide) more jobs,” he said. “In 20 weeks, if we don’t get jobs, we’ll all be in the same boat.”