Gov. Bentley has one last chance to make things right

Alabama House Minority Leader Craig FordAlabama House Minority Leader Craig Ford

 Another legislative session has ended in Montgomery. And like most years, this session had its share of disappointments.

While there were some positive things that came out of this legislative session, the $400 bonus and conditional 4 percent pay raise for state employees next year, as examples, the bad outweighed the good.

Once again, legislative leaders refused to pass bills allowing the people to vote on a state lottery. A lottery could bring in hundreds-of-millions of dollars for our public schools and provide scholarships to our children. But the leadership in Montgomery continues to refuse to let the people of Alabama vote on the issue.

The leadership also refused to allow a vote on legislation to provide additional funding for workforce development training and to put clawback provisions on tax incentives offered to businesses and corporations.

It was disappointing to see the state House of Representatives pass legislation that doubles down on the failed Accountability Act. This bill would have removed the cap on tax credits for individuals and couples donating to scholarship organizations for private schools. The Accountability Act has already cost our public schools $40 million this year; it will cost us at least $25 million next year. What’s worse, is for all that money lost, only 52 kids transferred to private schools last year. Passing this bill would be like betting on the loser of the Super Bowl after the game has already been played. We know it is a losing bet! Thankfully, the State Senate did not pass the bill.

At the top of the list of setbacks is the legislature’s failure to pass a pay raise for educators and retirees.

Gov. Bentley promised in his State of the State address to give educators a 2 percent raise, but the Republican Supermajority was never on board with the governor’s plan. From the beginning, the legislative leaders claimed there was not enough money for a 2 percent raise. That argument just doesn’t hold up.

As the saying goes, where there’s a will, there’s a way. If legislative leaders had chosen to make educators’ pay a priority, then they would have put the pay raise in the budget first and then budgeted everything else around the raise.

As the governor has said from the beginning, we know the money is there. Gov. Bentley proposed an education budget that not only provided a 2 percent raise but also fully funded the Public Education Employees’ Health Insurance Plan, PEEHIP.

Legislative leaders have claimed that the governor paid for this raise by going around the spending cap created by the Rolling Reserve Act. These same legislative leaders also chose to go around the cap in their budget, so there is no legitimate reason for why we are not giving educators and retirees a 2 percent raise next year.

Instead, the Republicans forced through the budget without a raise at the last minute and then ended the session so that the governor could not send the budget back with a pay raise amendment. Legislative leaders have done everything they could to avoid having to vote on a raise. Now the only option left is for the governor to veto the budget and call a special legislative session.

It is ridiculous that it has come to this! Had the legislature simply passed the governor’s version of the budget, we could have avoided all of this. Now the governor must either keep his promise and call a special session or sign the budget without a raise and lose all of his credibility.

There is no good outcome to this situation. But the governor must stand by his word and veto this budget. Educators were promised a raise. More importantly, they have earned one! If the governor backs down now, he will lose his credibility. I hope Gov. Bentley will do the right thing and, for the sake of our educators and himself, keep his promise and demand a pay raise.

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