The buzz in the Legislative Building was at a fever pitch Tuesday with the news that five House Democrats had agreed to support a new version of the Senate budget that restored some funding to public schools and made a handful of other changes.
The Senate delayed a scheduled floor vote on the budget that passed the Appropriations Committee last week and instead took the bill back to the committee to make the changes designed to garner the support of the five Democrats that could give Republicans enough votes to override a veto by Governor Beverly Perdue.
The new Senate plan spends $251 million more than last week’s proposal, most of it in public education, where Republicans restored funding for 13,000 teachers assistants the Senate leadership was planning to cut.
That was the focus of much of the discussion about the changes that increased the Senate spending total to $19.682 billion, which Republicans pointed out was just $220 million less than Perdue’s recommended budget.
The new version of the Senate budget also dropped a handful of controversial provisions including a plan to take responsibility for monitoring and enforcing campaign finance laws away from the State Board of Elections.
The whirring Republican spin machine featuring a midday news conference with House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger almost seemed to work, with pundits and Republican operatives saying that Perdue ought to support the new plan not only because of the alleged improvements, but because the signoff by the five Democrats guarantees it final passage.
But here’s a reality check on the substance and the politics. The new Senate budget does reinstate funding for teacher assistants but it pays for part of it by forcing local schools to find $120 million more in “discretionary” cuts, some of which may result in the layoffs of some of the teacher assistants or teachers the Republicans claim to be saving.
And while it is true that the new version of the budget drops the plan to shrink campaign oversight by dismantling the State Board of Elections, it also adds a provision taking power away from the Attorney General in the redistricting process.
Many of the other egregious provisions remain in the latest Senate plan, like the one preventing state officials from adopting any environmental or worker safety regulations stricter than the federal government.
The evisceration of the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources in last week’s Senate budget is included in the new one and so are absurd ideas like abolishing the Drug Treatment Court and Sentencing Services, two highly successful prison alternative programs that actually save the state money.
The new Senate still assumes levels of savings in the Community Care Program that no one thinks are possible, which means that even more cuts are on the way to services to the most vulnerable people in the state than the ones outlined in the Republicans plan.
More at Four and Smart are still both slashed and More at Four is still inexplicably taken out of the Department of Public Instruction.
And despite all the talk about restoring education funding, the latest version of the budget still makes deep cuts in all levels of the state’s education system at a time when almost every other state in the south is increasing funding for schools.
It does appear that the five House Democrats will vote for the final version of the budget when it comes to the House floor later this week. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they have committed to vote to override what appears to be the inevitable veto from Governor Perdue.
Perdue issued a statement calling the revised Senate plan an “ideologically driven effort to unnecessarily defund education and other crucial programs.”
That pretty much sums it up, and makes it clear what she thinks of the secret backroom weekend deal and its fuzzy math and misleading claims.
It is more of the unacceptable same from legislative leaders more interested in keeping the radical right happy than serving the best interests of the state.
It is veto time again in Raleigh.