By PHILLIP RAWLS
MONTGOMERY, Ala. —
The Alabama House on Monday rejected Gov. Robert Bentley's proposal to delay allowing private school tax credits for two years, and the Republican leader in the Senate predicted it would do the same before the midnight end of the 2013 legislative session.
The House voted down the governor's proposal 57-10 Monday. That sent it to the Senate, where President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said the Republican majority had the votes to block the Republican governor's delay and begin the tax credits immediately.
"I just don't think you put off school choice for parents and students in these failing systems," Marsh said.
Bentley said, "House members made a mistake by rejecting this executive amendment. My first responsibility is to the people of this state, and I believe the majority of the people support this executive amendment."
The tax credits are part of the Alabama Accountability Act that the Republican majority passed Feb. 28 and that the governor signed into law. The bill provides flexibility to city and county school systems in complying with state education laws. It also provides state tax credits of about $3,500 for parents who enroll a child in a private school or non-failing public school rather than a public school rated as failing.
Bentley wanted to delay the tax credits until 2015 to allow time for failing schools to improve and for the state to repay $423 million taken from a state savings account to prevent education budget cuts during the recession. Bentley said beginning the tax credits now is "fiscally irresponsible."
House budget committee Chairman Jay Love, R-Montgomery, said the state is financially capable of beginning the tax credits now and repaying the money by a 2015 deadline. Estimates of how much the credits will reduce tax collections annually range from $40 million to $65 million, with the Bentley administration leaning toward the high end.
The sponsor of the Accountability Act, Republican Rep. Chad Fincher of Semmes, said he was frustrated with the governor because he never discussed any concerns about the tax credits when he signed the Accountability Act in March and not for weeks afterward.
"I don't want to wait another day to provide an opportunity to kids in failing schools," Fincher said.
Bentley's proposal was an executive amendment he attached to a bill passed by the Legislature two weeks ago to clarify the definition of a failing school and to make sure no private or non-failing public school has to take a student from a failing school. The Senate rejected his amendment 57-10 and then voted 59-6 to reapprove the bill. Most Republicans voted against the governor, and many Democrats did not vote.
Bentley's opponent in next year's Republican primary for governor, former Morgan County Commissioner Stacy Lee George, watched the vote from the House gallery. "This governor is weak, and this proves it," George said.