Rep. Thom Tillis
Rep. Thom Tillis was born in Jacksonville, Fla., and grew up in Nashville, Tenn. In 1998, he and his wife, Susan, moved to Cornelius, N.C. They have been married 23 years and have two children, Lindsay and Ryan. Rep. Tillis served as a management consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers and IBM until 2009.
In 2006 he was elected to represent the 98th District (Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville) in the N.C. House of Representatives and was re-elected in 2008 and 2010. Rep. Tillis chaired the 2010 House Republican Caucus Campaign Committee, helping Republicans win a majority in the House for the first time in over a decade. Elected Speaker of the House in January 2011, he became the second Republican Speaker in state history.
"While I am not a co-op member,' he said, "I do believe co-ops are an integral part of rural communities. Their efforts improve infrastructure and quality of life for their communities."
Sen. Phil Berger
Sen. Phil Berger was born in New Rochelle, N.Y., and grew up in Danville, Va., where he attended Averett College. He received his law degree at Wake Forest University and has lived in Eden, Rockingham County, for 25 years. He and his wife, Pat, have been married 40 years and have three children — Phil Jr., Kevin, and Ashley — and four grandchildren.
A partner at The Berger Law Firm, PC, along with his son, Kevin, Sen. Berger has also served as the Mayodan Town Attorney since 1988.
First elected to represent the 26th District (Guilford and Rockingham counties) in the N.C. Senate in 2000, Sen. Berger in 2004 was selected by his colleagues to serve as Minority Leader and served in that role through 2010. In January 2011, he was elected President Pro Tempore and became the first Republican Senate leader in more than a century.
After Republicans in the 2010 general election gained a majority in both the 120-seat House of Representatives and the 50-seat Senate, the North Carolina General Assembly in January 2011 elected new leadership. Sen. Phil Berger and Rep. Thom Tillis have guided their respective chambers for the past year. In November, the North Carolina Association of Electric Cooperatives asked the two legislators to address issues concerning the state's rural economies, its energy future, and its greatest challenges over the next 20 years. Their responses follow.
Electric cooperatives serve North Carolina's rural areas where our consumer members began seeing economic hardship long before the state's metropolitan regions were affected. What is the General Assembly doing to repair our state's rural economies?
We're passing policies that will help our state's job creators put people back to work. With tremendous bipartisan support, we passed sweeping changes to the state's regulatory environment that will simplify outdated rules and regulations and provide certainty and clarity for North Carolina's job creators. It's a bill the business community resoundingly says will help companies put people back to work.
We passed a budget that ends nearly $1 billion in "temporary," job-killing sales and income tax hikes. In addition, the budget also enacted a $50,000 income exemption for job-creating businesses.
Our tax reforms will return more than $1 billion to the private economy, where the hard work and creativity of our state's citizens and businesses will turn that money into lasting new jobs.
We implemented major reforms and improvements to public classrooms. Our reforms will help more students graduate and create a more educated workforce.
Finally, we're working to strengthen our agriculture sector, which is the state's number one economy. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said that our past session was one of the most agriculture-friendly sessions in recent memory.
The General Assembly took significant strides to help our rural economies across the state by decreasing the sales tax in North Carolina, creating a new tax exemption for small businesses and taking the first steps to ease some of the restrictions on agriculture through regulatory reform legislation. The legislature also passed comprehensive annexation reform to give our state's rural residents the choice to become part of a municipality or not, and to protect their way of life.
The key to affordable, reliable power is stability. North Carolina energy providers need to build new power plants to replace aging facilities as well as new generation to accommodate our state's growing population. What is the legislature's role in ensuring North Carolina has the ability to meet its future energy needs?
We want to make sure government doesn't hinder energy production or cause costs to skyrocket. And we want to take advantage of plentiful, undeveloped resources right here in North Carolina.
For example, we passed major regulatory reforms which remove unnecessary burdens from our energy sector. North Carolina can no longer impose regulations that are stronger than federal regulations.
Escalating energy costs are hurting North Carolina's working families and small businesses, which already are struggling to make ends meet in this difficult economy. To help deal with this challenge, we passed The Energy Jobs Act which could have paved the way for a robust local energy sector, to create thousands of new jobs and generate half a billion dollars in annual state revenue.
North Carolina is sitting on huge reserves of natural gas, both on and offshore. The state has 64 million federal offshore acres, the most on the east coast and the fourth largest acreage in the country. These reserves have the potential to create thousands of well-paying jobs, generate billions of dollars and provide a far more affordable source of renewable energy to North Carolina families and businesses.
The Energy Jobs Act directed the governor to begin negotiating a tri-state pact with the governors of Virginia and South Carolina to encourage President Obama to allow offshore energy exploration. It also directed her to work with North Carolina's Congressional delegation to advocate for state revenue-sharing for resources off the coast, and directed how that money would be spent. Nearly half of the funds would have gone to jobs training, energy research and conservation. Unfortunately, Gov.Perdue vetoed the bill and rejected a golden opportunity to develop affordable and clean energy alternatives that would create thousands of new good-paying jobs. We have overridden her veto in the Senate and hope the House will follow suit.
We will see the energy policy fundamentally shift over the next few decades in North Carolina. In order to give our state the ability to meet future energy needs, the legislature passed the Energy Jobs Act and the Regulatory Reform Act, which protects the environment while promoting job creation in North Carolina. Both these pieces of legislation show the legislature's commitment to making economically sustainable energy available for years to come. Currently the House Select Committee on Energy Independence is studying how the development of new energy sources, as well as the expansion of existing resources, can continue to create new jobs in North Carolina.
What is the greatest challenge facing North Carolina over the next 20 years?
One of our greatest challenges will be maintaining and expanding our state's infrastructure. Population increases along with the increasing age of our existing assets will make maintaining our roads, bridges, public places and utilities a particular challenge. We also want to make sure private industry has the freedom to lead North Carolina through the 21st Century by creating high-paying jobs that will help us compete in the global economy.
Over the next 20 years, North Carolina's greatest challenge will be making sure our state is the best place to do business in the nation, creating jobs and economic prosperity for the state's citizens. In order to accomplish this goal, we need to ensure our tax rates are competitive with other states and allow businesses and individuals to operate with minimal interference by government.
As leader of your chamber, what is the one thing you would like electric cooperative consumers to know about you?
As the leader of the House of Representatives, electric cooperative consumers should know that I am committed to fiscal sustainability and limiting government to its proper role, allowing North Carolinians to do what they do best — prosper through industriousness. I am dedicated to making North Carolina as competitive as any state in the nation.