By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
I was amazed to read a recent editorial from Rep. Jim Patterson, R-Merdianville, in which he blasted Democrats in the Alabama legislature for having the nerve to propose a 5 percent pay increase for educators.
Throughout his editorial, Rep. Patterson makes several statements that are either misleading or out-right false.
At one point, Rep. Patterson tried to claim that Democrats were responsible for the $437 million debt owed to the Alabama Trust Fund. Rep. Patterson claimed that Democrats incurred this debt in 2009.
That $437 million debt was incurred last September when Republicans asked voters to approve a constitutional amendment to borrow the $437 million to avoid the collapse of Alabama’s Medicaid program.
Furthermore, I and many other Democratic leaders in the House opposed this amendment because we wanted a more fiscally responsible solution to funding Medicaid.
Now Rep. Patterson is trying to rewrite history. But this isn’t the first time.
When I proposed the 5 percent pay increase for educators, Rep. Patterson alleged that Democrats had never paid for previous pay increases for educators when Democrats controlled the legislature. This is yet another false statement from Rep. Patterson.
Alabama’s constitution includes a “balanced budget amendment” that prohibits the legislature from passing a budget that isn’t balanced. The state budgets are written based on revenue projections. There may have been times when the revenue collected was not as high as the projection, but every pay raise Democrats have offered was paid for in the budgets we passed.
So while Rep. Patterson is certainly entitled to his own opinion, he is not entitled to his own facts. And before he writes more editorials, he should check to make sure what he says is accurate.
Rep. Patterson also went on to praise himself and the Republicans in the Alabama legislature for the two percent pay increase they gave educators and the liability insurance that he called an “added bonus.”
First, let’s be clear that the two percent pay increase was not a pay raise. It was a pay reinstatement. For the past two years, Republicans have taken 2.5 percent out of educators, retirees, and state employees paychecks. This two percent pay increase does not even give educators back all of what the Republicans took from them, let alone make a dent in the rising cost of living. And as Rep. Patterson pointed out, retirees didn’t even get the two percent.
Secondly, teachers didn’t need the $5 million liability insurance. They already get liability coverage through their local boards of education as well as the Alabama Education Association. And many teachers I have talked to have said they would rather that $5 million – and even the 2 percent pay increase – have been used to support the Alabama Reading Initiative, the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative, or another successful program.
The only thing more shocking than Rep. Patterson’s false and misleading statements in his editorial is the hypocrisy in what he wrote.
Rep. Patterson made some big claims about fiscal responsibility and how his parents taught him “to exercise self-discipline and to live within my means.”
But one of the first votes Rep. Patterson cast when he came to Montgomery was to end the Deferred Retirement Options Plan (a.k.a. the DROP program), which was designed to keep experienced educators in the classroom. He voted to end this program after his wife made $138,440 from the program. Is this the self-discipline Rep. Patterson was referring to?
Rep. Patterson did make one claim, however, that I do agree with. Rep. Patterson wrote that, “Republicans have truly changed the way business is conducted in the State House.”
That is a true statement. In February, Republicans used back-room deals and bait-and-switch tactics to ram through the so-called Alabama Accountability Act that will divert millions of dollars out of our public schools ($50 million this year alone!) and use that money to pay for vouchers (most of which will be going to people who are already sending their children to private schools).
Republicans switched the original school reform bill for the so-called Accountability Act at the last minute and rammed it through the legislature after only one hour of discussion and with no fiscal estimate to determine how much it would costs.
That is certainly not the way Democrats in the Alabama legislature conducted business when we were in leadership.
I am disappointed that Rep. Patterson has chosen to make false statements and attempted to rewrite history. We should be having a serious conversation about the different visions Democrats and Republicans have for education reform. But we can’t have that conversation if Rep. Patterson and Republicans in the Alabama legislature can’t be honest with the taxpayers.
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.