The leaders of the North Carolina Senate announced their plan to pass a state budget bill this week. Note that I didn’t say a plan to “debate” the budget bill or “gather input” on the budget bill, “hold hearings” on the budget bill or, God forbid, “listen to the public” on the budget bill.
No, what the Senate announced was that the largest, most important bill of the year will be voted on four days after it was first seen late last night. And public input? To paraphrase the Senate leaders: “We don’t need stinkin’ public input!”
Mind you, this is a 413 page bill that deals with myriad topics. It is incredibly complicated and important to our state’s future. And how was it put together? Well no one knows; it was all done in secret.
What we do know is that it will be quickly reviewed in subcommittees this afternoon, passed by the full Appropriations Committee tomorrow and then passed by the full Senate on Wednesday and Thursday. Democrats will probably get to run a few amendments that will either be voted down on party-line votes or ruled out of order.
How’s that for democracy in action? As with so many areas, the folks running the legislature who used to complain mightily when they were in the minority, have now taken secrecy and lack of process to new levels that would have made their predecessors blush.
Here’s current Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger complaining back in 2008 about Democrats limiting debate on the budget:
“To cut off debate on the most important piece of legislation that this body enacts, it seems to me is a miscarriage of everything that democracy stands for.”
And even though that budget was merely a second-year adjustment to a biennial budget passed the year before that had been publicly debated for weeks (and that received Republican “aye” votes), Berger was right when he leveled his criticism.
But now, of course, he is doing essentially the same thing; indeed, you can make a strong argument that what he’s doing is even worse.
When Senate Democrats wrongfully cut off floor debate on the 220-page budget adjustment bill in 2008, at least they did so after it had already been publicly examined and debated over a period of weeks in multiple venues. The plan in 2013 is to pass a real, full, two-year budget less than 96 hours after it was first unveiled!
The bottom line: 2013 remains, more than anything else the session of hypocrisy, settling grudges and childish political payback at the North Carolina General Assembly. This year’s budget is another classic example.