By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
Last week, I announced that I am sponsoring legislation to give educators (including both teachers and support personnel), state employees, and retirees a 10 percent cost-of-living pay increase. I believe this pay increase is not only good for our educators, retirees, and state employees; it will also benefit the rest of our state.
State senator Phil Williams (R-Etowah) has taken a very different position on this issue.
Sen. Williams has stated on his website that he only supports a 2.5 percent pay increase, and he would only give that to teachers with less than nine years of experience.
I have never heard of someone denying a pay increase to an employee because the employee has too much experience! Sen. Williams’ proposal is a slap in the face to our educators, state employees, and retirees.
So today, I will explain why this pay increase is needed, and why I am asking for 10 percent instead of less.
As you may have read, educators, state employees, and retirees have not had a pay increase since 2008 – just before the recession began. Since then, the cost-of-living for educators, state employees, and retirees has increased by 7.5 percent.
But the increase in the cost of living is not the only thing that has affected their pay. In 2011, the Republicans in the Alabama legislature passed a law that required educators and state employees to contribute more to their retirement benefits. The effect of this change was to reduce educators’ and state employees’ paychecks by 2.5 percent. In fact, they began taking the final 0.25 percent out of their paychecks just last month.
When you add these numbers together, you find that the cost of living for educators and state employees has increased by 10 percent since the last time they received a pay increase.
One question I have been getting is “Can we afford this pay increase?”
To help ease the financial burden of the pay increase, I am proposing that we implement it over a two-year period with a 7 percent increase going into effect in 2014 and the additional 3 percent increase going into effect in 2015. I have also been told that we expect revenues to increase over the next two years, just as they did this past year.
I also spoke with the Legislative Fiscal Office, which estimates how much enacting legislation will cost. They told me that to implement this pay increase, it would cost $374 million for educators and $86 million for state employees. That is a lot of money. But compared to our overall budget for the coming year, the pay increase is only about one-seventh of one percent of the education budget and one-half of one percent of the general fund budget.
Therefore, I believe that the pay increase is both fair and affordable. But I also believe the benefits of this pay increase go beyond just those who will receive it.
One benefit from this pay increase is that it is a tool to help keep and recruit the best and brightest educators to Alabama’s schools. Our state does not currently have any program in place to recruit young people to the teaching profession or to recruit quality educators from other states. And even if we did have such a program, it would be difficult to keep or recruit educators if we do not offer competitive compensation.
People don’t become educators for the money. But they still have bills to pay, and, like anybody else, could be tempted to leave education if a better opportunity came along.
This pay increase will also be a benefit to our economy. Education is key to our ability to recruit good-paying, quality jobs. Prospective employers want a workforce that is educated and ready to take on the jobs they bring. But to have that workforce of tomorrow, we need to provide a quality education today. By offering competitive pay, we can recruit and keep the best educators, and our children will receive a better education because of it.
Furthermore, educators, retirees, and state employees are also customers. By increasing their pay, they will have more money to spend at local businesses. And when those businesses increase their profits, they will be able to expand their businesses and hire more people.
The recession has hit us all. Educators, retirees, and state employees have seen their cost of living go up while their pay was also cut. A pay increase of 10 percent will put these educators, state employees, and retirees back to where they were before the recession began. But this pay increase will also make our schools better, and be a boost for our local economy. This pay increase is fair, affordable, and needed. By investing in our educators, state employees, and retirees, we are also investing in ourselves.
Representative Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden. He has served in the Alabama House of Representatives since 2000. In 2010, Representative Ford was elected House Minority Leader by the House Democratic Caucus. He was re-elected Minority Leader in 2012.