It’s been a rough year for the powers that be in Montgomery.
There have been more than a few bad headlines this year, and we only avoided a government shutdown after three costly legislative sessions that led to an $80 million raid on public education and $86 million in new taxes.
The wheels clearly have come off the bus in Montgomery, and that can only mean one thing – time to distract the taxpayers.
It’s a strategy we’ve seen over and over for years now. How do you keep the taxpayers from getting upset at you for running up more than $700 million in debt, years of cuts to public education and raising taxes by millions of dollars? By changing the subject.
We’ve seen this play out many times before. Their favorite strategy is to come up with bills trying to legislate morality. Most of them get overturned in court (after expensive legal battles paid for with our tax dollars) because they are unconstitutional.
If they can’t distract us with some moral issue or blame it all on President Obama, then they change the subject with some new crisis that has to be dealt with.
After a very bad year, and likely more bad months to come, state leaders are desperate to redirect the taxpayers’ attention, and that’s why Republicans are targeting educators’ retirement.
Educators and public employees have been a favorite target of our state leaders for a long time. Over the past five years, Republicans have cut educators’ pay, cut classroom resources, increased class sizes and undermined public education at every turn. So it’s no surprise that Republicans have put educators back in their crosshairs.
The Decatur Daily reported that during a recent hearing of the Joint Committee on Alabama Public Pensions, committee co-chair Rep. Lynn Greer (R-Rogersville) said, “We’re looking at next year a General Fund budget that looks much worse than this year’s, and if we had (the money spent on pensions), we could be putting it there.”
It doesn’t get any clearer than that. Republicans want to cut or eliminate the state’s contribution to educators’ and state employees’ retirement. If they are successful, it will be a massive pay cut for our educators and a huge deterrent to any young person considering becoming an educator. We can’t have education if we don’t have educators!
But what it wouldn’t be is a surprise. Republicans have targeted the retirement system before.
In 2013, Republican legislators successfully passed a law that removed educators’ association appointment from the board that oversees the retirement funds. In 2011, Republicans attempted to remove all the elected board members and replace them with political appointees. That bill failed, but it showed the intentions of our state leaders when it comes to teachers’ retirement money.
These Republican legislators’ look at educators’ retirement money and all they can think is how badly they want to get their hands on it. Our educators are already understaffed, undermined and underpaid!
Educators haven’t received a pay raise since 2008. In fact, Republicans cut their pay. Now Republicans are going after teachers’ retirement. And educators and retirees aren’t the only ones who will get hurt. The Republicans’ plan would also affect firefighters, law enforcement and other city and state employees.
That money is not there to bail out a bunch of legislators who have mismanaged our tax dollars and are desperate for a source of money other than more taxes. That money belongs to our educators to invest into their retirement. It is not a slush fund for politicians who have already proven they aren’t capable of managing the money we already send them when we pay our taxes.
Enough is enough! Our teachers’ retirement money belongs to them, not Republican politicians.
Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.