By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Tuesday, March 15, the Alabama House of Representatives passed the fiscal year 2017 State General Fund Budget. Along with the budget is a House amendment that would take money from the Governor’s office and redirect it to the enormously costly State Medicaid Agency after it was reported that Alabama Governor Robert Bentley had written massive raises for members of his cabinet and his staff.
On Monday, March 14, the Associated Press’s Kim Chandler and the Alabama Media Group’s, Mike Cason, both reported, in separate stories based on a blog report, that Alabama Governor Bentley had given massive pay raises to people in his office and members of his cabinet.
Alcoholic Beverage Control Board Administrator Mac Gipson, Department of Economic and Community Affairs Director Jim Byard, Revenue Commissioner Julie Magee and Insurance Commissioner Jim Ridling each received massive raises of $73,405 per year. Medicaid Commissioner Stephanie Azar received a $64,008 raise. Bentley gave raises to 14 members of his cabinet and a number of his staff also received incredibly large raises. Six reportedly received raises ranging from $21,000 to $34,000 a year.
GOP candidate for state board of education Jackie Zeigler said, “The Bentley administration says the state is broke. They have denied pay increases for teachers, State employees and retirees. They closed five State parks and cut back others. They closed 31 drivers license offices. They gutted the State Auditor’s budget. They took 100 State troopers off the road. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, they were giving themselves huge pay raises. Cutting the normal people but adding to their own pay. This needs to stop.” Jackie Zeigler is in an April 11th runoff with Matt Brown for the seat representing Mobile, Baldwin, Butler, Covington, Escambia, Conecuh, and Crenshaw Counties.
State Representative Mack Butler (R-Rainbow City) said on Facebook, “We just passed an amendment to the General Fund Budget to take away a large portion of the money that the Governor just gave in pay raises to his staff from his budget and provide it to Medicaid.”
State Representative Phil Williams (R-Huntsville) told voters, “The Governor will likely NOT support the General Fund budget that the Senate passed and we are currently debating. WE ARE WORKING AN AMENDMENT TO THE BILL TO DELETE THIS PAY INCREASES. Do you agree?”
State Representative Allen Farley (R-McCalla) wrote, “Tonight we passed a terrible General Fund Budget. But, I held my nose and voted for it because we, the House, added an amendment that would take the total of all Bentley’s staff and Cabinet Member raises from the Governor’s Budget and move that amount to Medicaid. We are sure the Governor will veto it, but we had to send a message. If we don’t have the resources for State worker raises, we sure as heck don’t have the money for the Governor’s inner circle. God Bless America!!!”
The changes to the Senate version of the SGF will still have to be approved by the Senate or the budget will go to a conference committee.
In 2015, Gov. Bentley vetoed the SGF and called two special sessions claiming that the 2016 fiscal year, State General Fund Budget needed more money. Eventually the legislature caved in to the Governor’s demands and raised ~$66 million in new taxes on cigarettes, prescription drugs, and nursing home beds and raided another ~$66 million of use taxes from the education trust fund (ETF). That $130 million was not enough for Gov. Bentley so he retaliated against rural districts by closing 31 driver’s license offices, four state parks, several ABC stores, Alabama National Guard Armories, and cut the number of State troopers. Now we learn that for some reason that there was plenty of money; but the Governor was apparently planning to use it to reward members of his staff and his cabinet appointees.
Now, Gov. Bentley is claiming that this SGF budget needs at least another $100 million in tax dollars for the state’s troubled Medicaid program over what it received last year and is threatening to veto this budget as well unless the legislature again caves to his demands for higher taxes.
According to a guest column by Henry Mabry in the Alabama Political Reporter, $60 million of that increase is because of some promise that the State made to the Barack Obama Administration in order to get approval for the State’s new regional care organizations (RCOs) which are supposed to take over managing the incredibly expensive State Medicaid agency burden.
Gov. Bentley also wants to borrow $850 million, so he can give a single non-bid contract out to build four new prisons. The new mega prisons are part of the Great State 2020 Plan which is the legacy Gov. Bentley wants to leave the State. Servicing the massive debt would cost an estimated $50 million a year and would come directly out of the long troubled SGF. Alabama Taxpayers would be paying for this for the next thirty years.
Meanwhile, at the behest of powerful road builders, several State Senators are pushing for a $billion bond issue to pay for roadwork projects and have promised money to all 67 counties in the state. Those bonds would paid for by raising fuel taxes.