The Senate’s defining moment

The Senate’s defining moment

- in Fitzsimon File

There are moments in every legislative session that define a General Assembly and its leaders. One of them came this week during the Senate budget debate.

Democratic Senator Clark Jenkins offered an amendment to the budget to cap a tax cut passed last session to make sure that only small businesses would receive it.

That was the way Republican leaders described the tax cut last year and the way they still describe it today, as a break for small businesses to help them create jobs.

But a recent News & Observer report revealed that the cap on the tax cut was removed last year as the bill made its way through the legislative process.

That means the break will not go to just small mom and pop operations, but more than 400,000 businesses and equity partners, including the millionaire partners in some of the state’s biggest law firms and medical practices. And it will cost the state $336 million a year at a time when funding for education and human services is being slashed.

Jenkins’ amendment would have put a cap back on the tax cut, limiting it to small businesses. That would lower the price of the tax change by $141 million.

He proposed spending $130 million of that savings on public schools and the other $11 million to provide compensation for the living victims of the state’s horrific eugenics program.

The House budget included money for the victims, $50,000 each, an amount determined by a bipartisan committee created by House Speaker Thom Tillis.

The Senate budget includes nothing for the eugenics victims. The Senate proposal also does virtually nothing to replace $258 million in federal education funding that is ending this year that pays the salaries of 5,400 public school employees, most of them teachers.

Jenkins amendment would keep more than half of those teachers in the classroom, and not by raising taxes, but by simply limiting the tax cut to the small businesses Republicans claimed they were targeting in the first place.

The Republican leaders in the Senate refused to consider Jenkins’ amendment, instead using a parliamentary maneuver to make sure it never came up for a vote.

They chose tax breaks for millionaires over teachers and eugenics victims. No matter how they spin it, that’s what they did and it was one of the defining moments of this General Assembly and says a lot about the people who lead it.

The lame attempts to defend that decision only made things worse for Republicans. Senator Don East said he didn’t believe the eugenics victims, maimed by the state, deserve any compensation.

Senator Bob Rucho said a Democratic Senator who said he didn’t need the tax cut could send it back to the state. That’s not the point of course, and Rucho knows it.

The point is that Republicans could have agreed to Jenkins amendment and made it part of their budget and claimed it as their own. Small businesses would still have received a tax break, eugenics victims would have received a little help, and thousands of teachers could have kept their jobs.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said just after the Republicans rejected Jenkins’ amendment that the budget is all about choices.

Indeed it is. And members of the Senate leadership chose the millionaires—not the teachers, not public school students, and not the living victims of mutilation at the hands of the state.

They chose the millionaires. And their choice speaks volumes, not only about their priorities, but who they are really working for in Raleigh. A defining moment indeed.