Senate Leader Phil Berger stopped by the press room this afternoon for an impromptu news conference on the budget that won final approval in his chamber this afternoon – a budget he says he’s very proud of. The point of the presser, it quickly became clear, was to counter Democrats’ floor arguments that the proposal would decimate the state’s educational system.
“Facts are stubborn things,” Berger said. “Everybody’s entitled to their own opinions, but they’re not necessarily entitled to their own facts.”
The difference between Perdue’s education spending and the Senate plan “is 36 million dollars. It’s one half of one percent,” Berger said. And with the Senate’s additional $45M lottery set-aside for school construction, “It’s actually more money for K-12 education than the governor’s budget provides.”
“You hear a lot of folks out there now who ought to know better saying that that’s not the case. And I think that that’s unfortunate.”
“Are there cuts to K-12 education? Yeah, there are cuts to K-12 education," Berger said. "But the important thing to remember is, her proposal cuts K-12 education as well. So I would encourage her to look at those facts and would encourage her to sign the budget.”
But Berger said the evolution of what appears to be a veto-proof majority in the House seems to be pushing Perdue in the opposite direction. “She does appear to be more desperate in how she’s characterizing things. And I think that’s unfortunate.”
“What they’ve done up to this point is make wild allegations about what’s going to happen, and up to this point, I don’t think their predictions have been entirely accurate.”
Berger was skeptical of Democratic claims that although the top-line numbers are close, they mask big differences in prioritizing where dollars should go. But he conceded that’s at least somewhat true in early education spending.
“Yes, there are reductions to Smart Start and More at Four. The dollars going to those programs will be less than the continuation budget proposed,” Berger said, but “in the context of the economic situation we’re facing, in the context of the dollars that are out there, these are cuts that are manageable.”
“I can accept and understand that there may be a difference of opinion about that,” Berger added, “but the ceiling’s not going to collapse, the sky’s not going to fall.”
“We believe that early childhood education is an important part of overall educational opportunity, especially for at-risk kids,” he said. “What we’re differing on is what’s the appropriate level of funding.”
Watch the whole thing at right, and my apologies for the "Blair Witch" effects in the first minute or two. As I said, it was an unannounced presser, so I wasn’t set up to record when he started talking.