At 3:07 a.m. on Friday morning, North Carolina Senate GOP leaders rushed through a budget amendment that stripped education funding for teaching assistants and STEM programs in districts led by Democrats, cut funding to provide fresh produce to food deserts, reallocated money that was supposed to go to an arts museum and a downtown revitalization project, and eliminated a position that works to secure federal aid for disaster relief.
It appears the amendment wasn’t passed to achieve specific policy goals though, but rather as an act of political retribution after a prolonged and contentious budget negotiation in the state’s senate.
As Thursday night ticked into Friday morning, the two parties seemed deadlocked — every time Democrats would file an amendment to fund their initiatives, Republicans would reject it, and Democrats would introduce another amendment.
But at 1:00 a.m. on Friday morning, Senate Rules Chairman Bill Rabon called a recess and met with other GOP leaders behind closed doors. As reported by the News & Observer, Democrats passed the time with an “impromptu dance party” in the hall.
The dancing Democrats didn’t see what was coming next, according to Colin Campbell,
The session finally resumed around 3 a.m., and Republican Sen. Brent Jackson introduced a new budget amendment that he explained would fund more pilot programs combating the opioid epidemic. He cited “a great deal of discussion” about the need for more opioid treatment funding.
Jackson didn’t mention where the additional $1 million would come from: directly from education programs in Senate Democrats’ districts and other initiatives the minority party sought.
Senators weren’t given adequate time to read through the revised budget — a vote was called within minutes, and thanks the supermajority held by Republicans, it passed. The budget now goes to the House of Representatives, where Republicans hold a supermajority as well.
A rural district in northeastern North Carolina, represented by Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram (D), is impacted the most by this amendment. The budget would strip $316,646 in funding away from two early college high schools in her district, and prohibits state funding for Eastern North Carolina STEM, a summer program for science, math, and technology. The program primarily serves African-American students from low-income families, and Smith-Ingram said that if the amendment is included in the final budget, it will effectively shut down the STEM program.
“I don’t know what motivated the amendment, but it will have a devastating effect on an area that is already suffering,” Smith-Ingram told the News & Record. “The future of children should not be caught up in a political disagreement between members.”
The amendment also reallocates funding for a program that offers stipends to teachers assistants if they are working towards their college degree and teaching licenses. As a result, the program will no longer be available to residents of seven counties represented by Democratic Senators Smith-Ingram and Angela Bryant. Instead, it will only be available to residents in counties represented by Republican senators.
Additionally, the amendment removes $200,000 to bring fresh produce to food deserts, $250,000 for additional staff to accommodate an expansion at the N.C. Museum of Art, and $550,000 for downtown revitalization projects — the only remaining funding for downtown improvement programs is in Robeson County, which, you guessed it, is represented by a Republican in the state senate.
This ugly amendment is just another example of the highly partisan nature of politics in the state legislature.
Smith-Ingram is holding out hope that there can be another vote on the amendment in the senate due to the questionable procedural practices.
“Procedurally, it appears that there is enough in our rules to come back and reconsider that amendment,” Smith-Ingram said. “I’m willing and I’m open to continuing to negotiate with the majority to make sure we right this wrong that occurred.”