By Phillip Rawls
MONTGOMERY, Ala. —
Gov. Robert Bentley may have no way to give education employees the 2 percent pay raise he has recommended.
The Republican governor has been pushing the Republican-controlled Legislature to approve 2 percent raise legislation for two months, but he told reporters Thursday there is no way him to achieve that unless the Legislature sends him some type of pay raise bill that can he can amend to the amount he wants.
Bentley said he can’t amend the state education budget to legislate a 2 percent raise. The money to fund a raise would be included in the budget. But he said he needs a separate bill to enact the raise.
“I don’t have a mechanism at this time,” he said at an impromptu news conference on the Statehouse lawn.
House budget committee Chairman Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, said the governor is correct that he would need a separate bill for a raise and the House isn’t in position to pass one.
Pay raise legislation backed by Bentley originally was introduced in the Senate at 2 percent. The Senate reduced it to a one-time bonus of 1 percent for the 2014-2015 school year. The Senate-passed bonus was put on hold by the House Ways and Means-Education Committee on Wednesday. Instead, the committee approved an education budget that doesn’t include funding for any raise.
Instead, the House put money toward the rising health insurance costs for teachers.
“A pay raise does teachers no good if they have to pay every dime of it, and perhaps some extra, toward higher health insurance premiums that Obamacare demands. That is why the House education budget attempts to help both active and retired education employees by funding their health insurance,” he said, referring to the federal Affordable Care Act.
Bentley urged the House to get into a position to vote on legislation for a 2 percent raise. “I want the members to have a chance to vote with me and vote with the teachers or vote against it and vote against the teachers,” he said.
Bentley said education employees had to pay more for their health and retirement benefits at the start of the current four-year term because the recession reduced the state’s revenue. He said now that the state’s financial picture is improving, “I believe we have to support our teachers. We have asked a lot of our teachers and our state employees over the last three years.”
Any raise for the upcoming school year would be on top of the 2 percent education employees received for the current school year.
Bentley said that if the Legislature sends him an education budget with no pay raise bill accompanying it, he will have to decide then what to do with the budget. “If it’s a reasonable budget, obviously we’ll look at it very carefully,” he said.
Bentley and most legislators are running for re-election. Poole said, “It is the responsibility of the legislature to pass a budget and I would encourage the governor to allow the Legislature to address important policy issues related to the education budget without injecting election year politics.”
House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, also recently accused the governor of playing politics with the raise.
When asked about election-year politics, Bentley grinned and said, “I can’t believe anybody would play politics down here.”