The state Senate’s early-morning cuts to education programs in Senate Democrats’ districts are history: All of the programs are funded in the final compromise budget.
The proposed cuts came in an amendment passed in May around 3 a.m., moments before the Senate took a final vote on its budget proposal. Republicans who control the Senate had grown irritated with Democrats, who prolonged the debate with a series of amendments during a midnight session.
The amendment put $1 million in the budget to fund more pilot programs combating the opioid epidemic. That funding came from stripping $316,646 from two early college high schools in Northampton and Washington counties and $300,000 from a summer science, math and technology program called Eastern North Carolina STEM.
All of those are located in the rural northeastern North Carolina district represented by Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram, a Democrat.
Smith-Ingram said Tuesday that while she still has concerns about the overall budget bill, she’s glad to see the funding restored in her district.
“I am really appreciative of those 3 a.m. cuts being returned,” she said.
The two early college high schools will get slightly less funding in the final budget than the initial Senate version, because the money will be spread among similar schools across the state. Smith-Ingram says she’s supportive of that approach because the schools are “instrumental in advancing those programs for the career readiness of our students.”
The final budget also restores the original list of counties to be included in a program that offers stipends to teacher assistants who are working on a college degree to get their teaching licenses. The 3 a.m. amendment kept funding for that program but moved it from counties represented by Smith-Ingram and another Democrat to counties represented by Republican senators. The budget now won’t offer the stipend in some of the GOP Senate districts.
Also back in the final budget after being cut in the late-night amendment: Funding for a program to bring fresh produce to “food deserts,” and additional staff for the N.C. Museum of Art and for a downtown revitalization program.
The amendment would have eliminated a position in Gov. Roy Cooper’s office for a federal legislative programs coordinator. The final budget doesn’t specifically single out that job, but Cooper does get a big budget cut: $979,205 described as an “administrative reduction” of about 17 percent.
When the budget cuts surfaced, Cooper’s spokesman called the amendment “middle of the night budget games.” Senate leader Phil Berger defended the amendment, saying it “helped address, without raising taxes, the opioid crisis that Sen. (Paul) Lowe tried to address with a large tax increase in his amendment.”
The extra $1 million for opioid programs isn’t in the final budget, which includes $250,000 for a single pilot program in Wilmington.