By Beth Clayton
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY–Governor Bentley is working to get the Republican leadership to support his executive amendment to HB658, which would delay implementation of the Alabama Accountability Act until 2015.
Wednesday, the governor announced his plans, citing fiscal responsibility and the need to allow failing schools time to improve as reasons why implementation should be delayed.
On Thursday, Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) said that he would not bring the bill with the governor’s amendments to a vote in the senate, even if it passed the house.
Friday, several senate Democrats held a press conference to call for a repeal of HB84.
In the letter the governor sent to the members of the legislature with his executive amendments attached, he stated his reasons very clearly to the legislative body.
“The Education Trust Fund owes the Education Rainy Day Account $423 million by the end of fiscal year 2015. The state is constitutionally required to pay its debts,” Bentley wrote.
Bentley continued to say that his budget recommendation included $100 million to repay the Rainy Day Account, however the budget that passed only included $35 million. The governor said that a delay allows the budget the ability to repay the debt before implementing the tax credits for failing schools.
Additionally, the governor said in the letter that delaying implementation allows failing schools time to improve. “For years, schools have needed greater flexibility to better serve their students. We have provided that flexibility in the Alabama Accountability Act, and my executive amendment will not change that,” Bentley wrote.
“This amendment will give schools the appropriate amount of time to put that flexibility into practice. Local educators now have the opportunity to develop their own plans for improvement,” Bentley continued.
Friday, after the announcements by Mash and the senate Democrats, the governor wrote another letter to the legislature.
The governor assured the members of the legislature that “this decision was not made in haste, nor is it political for me.”
“I have wrestled with this issue and began conversations with the legislative leadership soon after HB84 was passed in February. My comments regarding an executive amendment at that time fell flat as leadership made it clear that sending an amendemnt back to the Legislature would kill the bill entirely,” the governor said.
Despite the governor’s claim that he has discussed this with the legislative leaders, Marsh says otherwise.
“We passed the school choice bill almost three months ago and he signed it and never did he raise any of these concerns,” Marsh said.
In his second letter to the legislators, the governor pointed out how the budget passed through the legislature makes this change necessary, since the governor’s budget recommendation to pay back the Rainy Day Account was ignored.
“We have made a promise to the people of Alabama, and are mandated by law, to repay the ETF Rainy Day Fund by Fiscal Year 2015,” the governor wrote.
The governor showed how, buy refusing to accept his budget recommendation, his executive amendment is the only fiscally responsible option.
“We owe $423 million over the next 2.5 years. Let’s assume, optimistically, that we can repay $200 million at the end of this fiscal year. That leaves $223 million left for fiscal years 2014 and 2015. My budget recommendation for fiscal year 2014 included $100 million to the Rainy Day Fund. The budget you sent me last week only includes $35 million for fiscal year 2014. That would leave nearly $190 million left to repay in fiscal year 2015, and that is why I am sending this executive amendment,” the governor wrote.
The governor continued to say that he does not want to see every dollar of Education Trust Fund growth committed to repaying debt in 2015.
“Instead, I would like to pay back a significant portion of our debt in fiscal year 2014 and spend some growth dollars in fiscal year 2015 on new priorities and efforts to improve education around the state,” Bentley wrote.
The governor concluded his second letter to the legislators by telling them that he has received support for his executive amendment from the people of Alabama, and encouraging the members of the Legislature to talk to their constituents about this issue.
“I ask that you think about the financial, educational and practical implications of your vote,” Bentley wrote to the legislators.
If Marsh continues with his plan to kill HB658 with the governor’s executive amendments attached, all the changes to HB84, the Alabama Accountability Act, will remain in place.
These questions may be revisited next session if action is not taken Monday, on the last legislative day of the 2013 regular session.