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Berger tries and fails to offer credible defense of 3:00 a.m. amendment blitz

[1]The numerous unflattering news stories [2] and commentaries [3] that have arisen in recent days in response to last Friday morning’s outrageous Senate budget blitzkrieg appear to have had an impact on Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger. Whereas the usual response from Berger to just about any criticism from any corner is to lash out with barbed/venomous attacks in which he derides his critics and/or calls them names that he intends to be derogatory, the Senator was strangely muted in a statement he gave to Raleigh’s News & Observer yesterday.

This is from reporter Colin Campbell’s story [4]:

“N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger is defending Republican legislators’ controversial 3 a.m. move to strip funding from several education programs in counties represented by Democrats. He argues that the change was necessary to address the state’s opioid epidemic without raising taxes.

The budget amendment was passed moments after it was introduced early Friday morning, following a two-hour Senate recess called when GOP leaders became visibly upset with Democrats for prolonging the budget debate with amendments….

On Tuesday, Berger issued a statement about the amendment – his first public comment on the issue.

‘This amendment helped address, without raising taxes, the opioid crisis that Sen. (Paul) Lowe tried to address with a large tax increase in his amendment,’ Berger said in an email.

Lowe’s amendment, which was rejected, would have added about $15 million for opioid treatment programs – a proposal from Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget – by scaling back the Senate’s proposed personal income tax cut.”

Berger’s somewhat less strident than usual tone didn’t rescue the statement from being anything other than nonsense, however.  The notion that the budget (which socked away hundreds of millions of dollars in a “rainy day fund” and gave millions in new tax cuts to the state’s wealthiest taxpayers) could only address the need for opioid services by slashing already underfunded programs in areas served only by Democrats — i.e. the people who had just had the temerity to question some of the overarching policies in the budget — is an insult to the intelligence of all North Carolinians. As Chris Fitzsimon noted yesterday [5], whatever Berger says in an attempt to defend his Trump-like behavior, it remains indefensible:

“Senator Berger and his fellow bullies were willing to punish students and schools in North Carolina because their Democratic colleagues made them stay up late and defend the budget they unveiled only a few days before.

Just a few years ago, the shocking undemocratic episode in the General Assembly would have resulted in screaming headlines and been the talk of the political world for days.

Not now, with bizarre news from Washington almost every day.

Maybe Senate leaders think they can do anything they want any time they want with no repercussions.

They are certainly acting like it, democracy and common decency—and the people of North Carolina be damned.”

The bottom line: Berger’s slightly-less-hostile tone is welcome, but he has a long way to go if he wants to start engaging in genuine and honest dialogue about the issues confronting the state.