RALEIGH, N.C. — Top Republicans in the North Carolina Senate said Tuesday that their state budget amendment in the wee hours to expand opioid abuse treatment programs wasn’t drawn up to punish Democrats for offering several changes of their own after midnight.
The amendment emerged as senators gathered early Friday morning for the final vote on a two-year spending proposal before going home for a long weekend.
The opioid amendment was paid for by taking $1 million from other spending programs. A couple of reductions occurred with public school initiatives with designated funds for eastern North Carolina counties represented by Democrats. Some of those counties were removed from a tuition assistance program helping teacher assistants obtain teaching degrees. The amendment also blocked $300,000 for a special math and science program for needy students.
The reduction caused Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s office and other Democrats to criticize the late-night maneuvering. But Senate leader Phil Berger, a Rockingham County Republican, said in an interview that Republicans had no intent to penalize Democrats for their late-night amendments.
Berger said they were addressing the concerns of colleagues, based in part on a Democrat’s amendment, to target more funds to fight the opioid epidemic.
“We’d heard a lot of conversation on it during the night on how bad it was, and I know from personal experience how bad it is,” said Sen. Brent Jackson, a Sampson County Republican and budget committee co-chairman. Communities that received the pilot program money are represented by Republicans.
Other reductions to expand the pilot came from a program to help downtown revitalization and for a North Carolina Museum of Art expansion. A position in Cooper’s office also would be eliminated.
The two parties already had robust debate the previous day comparing the Republican proposal with Cooper’s alternative plan before an initial vote last Thursday. The Senate reconvened at 12:05 a.m. Friday for a final vote.
Republicans became upset with Democrats when they ran amendments to mirror Cooper’s budget that had little chance of passing because they also attempted to dismantle GOP tax cuts.
Senate Republicans recessed for two hours and returned to propose their opioid treatment, which passed just after 3 a.m. before the entire budget got final approval.
Berger said Tuesday that Senate Republicans had been “told by the minority party that they had no amendments” to propose for the post-midnight session.
Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue didn’t return a phone call at his office late Tuesday. Sen. Mike Woodard, a Durham County Democrat who led the opposition debating the Republican budget, said it was the Democrats’ intent to offer amendments.
Asked about Berger’s defense of the amendment, Woodard replied: “I didn’t see funds taken away from districts represented by Republican senators.”
The budget debate now heads to the House, which will pass its own spending plan.