The Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly may have set the standard for legislative pettiness and vindictiveness last year. When Charlotte passed an ordinance giving transgender individuals the right to use the bathroom matching their gender identity, the state legislature responded by ramming through a monstrously homophobic and discriminatory response–the now-infamous House Bill 2. And they did it in a mere 12 hours.
Well, in the wee hours of Friday morning, Republicans in the state senate did something that may have been just as outrageous as the passage of HB2, if not more so. How do you get anywhere as petty and vindictive as ramming through one of the most discriminatory bills to ever come before a legislature at any level? Quite easily, as it turns out–by stripping away education funding from districts represented by Democrats.
As debate on the state budget dragged through the late hours of Thursday night, things were getting rather tense, to say the least. The Democrats in the chamber proposed five amendments to fund their initiatives. Every single one was shot down by the Republican supermajority. According to Jeff Jackson, a Democrat from Charlotte, they literally had only 24 hours’ notice before debate on the budget started.
Here's the budget the senate just passed. We had 1 day to read it. Scroll through and ask yourself if that was wise. https://t.co/UIMUIVmkyX
— Sen. Jeff Jackson (@JeffJacksonNC) May 13, 2017
Sometime around 1 a. m. on Friday morning, rules committee chairman Bill Rabon called a two-hour recess. During that time, the Republican leadership met with budget staff behind closed doors. When the session resumed, Brent Jackson, a Republican from the outer suburbs of Raleigh, introduced a budget amendment of his own that directed $1 million for pilot programs to combat the opioid epidemic. It passed 34-13 at 3:07 a. m.–a near party-line vote.
Jeff Jackson–no relation to Brent Jackson–was one of two Democrats to vote for the amendment. However, according to fellow Democrat Erica Smith-Ingram, who represents seven mostly rural counties in northeastern North Carolina, the Republicans called the question one minute after the amendment was introduced.
While the manner in which Brent Jackson’s amendment was adopted was a monstrosity, the amendment itself was an even greater monstrosity. Read it here. It shifts money away from education programs in counties represented by Democrats in the state senate, as well as from other initiatives pushed by Democrats. For instance, two early college high schools in Northampton and Washington counties in northeastern North Carolina lost over $300,000 in funding. Those counties are in Smith-Ingram’s state senate district.
The bill also effectively gutted Eastern North Carolina STEM, a summer science, technology, engineering, and math program available to students in Northampton and Halifax counties. That program primarily serves black students from low-income families, but Brent Jackson’s amendment specifically bars it from receiving one penny of state money. Halifax County is represented in the state senate by Angela Bryant, a Democrat, while as mentioned above, Northampton County is represented by Smith-Ingram. When Smith-Ingram saw this provision, she told The (Raleigh) News & Observer that if it becomes law, ENC STEM will almost certainly have to shut down.
The kids living in Smith-Ingram and Bryant’s districts were squeezed by another provision in the Brent Jackson amendment. Teacher assistants in seven counties represented by Smith-Ingram and Bryant will no longer get stipends for working toward their college degrees and teaching licenses. Instead, that money will only go to counties represented by Republicans. According to Smith-Ingram, those counties have the highest teacher turnover rates in the state, and those stipends were necessary in order to slow down the burn.
The amendment also cut out $200,000 intended to help bring fresh produce to food deserts, as well as $250,000 to staff an art park at the North Carolina Museum of Art and $550,000 for downtown revitalization programs. The food desert and art park programs were banned from receiving one penny of state money, while the only county due to get any money for downtown revitalization is Robeson County–represented by a Republican.
All things considered, it’s hard not to conclude that this bill was nothing more than a tantrum thrown by Republicans upset by Democrats who were actually doing the jobs they were elected to do. Bryant certainly thinks so.
— Angela R. Bryant (@angelareb) May 14, 2017
The budget bill now goes to the state house. Although the Republicans have a supermajority in that chamber as well, history suggests that the state house will restore money to programs cut by the state senate, meaning that the final budget will be decided by a conference committee.
However, Smith-Ingram thinks that before the bill goes to conference, the state senate should reconsider the Brent Jackson amendment, given the irregularities in how it was introduced and passed. She believes that there is “enough in our (state senate) rules to allow another vote–and that there will be a chance to “right this wrong that occurred.”
Speaking as a North Carolinian, there’s one other way to right this wrong–as well as dozens of others that have occurred over the last six-plus years. We need to send more Democrats to Raleigh. There are two ways to help. You can donate to the North Carolina Democratic Party, or to the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. Dumping Pat McCrory in favor of Roy Cooper started the job of restoring common sense to North Carolina. This travesty is all the more reason we need to finish it in 2018.
(featured image courtesy Brent Jackson’s Facebook)