By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
Alabama’s state employees work hard. They make our state and local governments function. They keep our courts running and our streets safe. And for the past five years, they have done so while having their pay and their budgets cut. Even merit raises, which are given solely on the basis of the employee’s performance, have been frozen for the past five years.
But last week, Gov. Bentley announced that he would unfreeze these merit raises…in January 2014.
In his announcement, the governor wrote that, “state employees have been asked to do more with less. They not only accepted that challenge, but many have succeeded in performing their jobs above and beyond their normal call of duty.”
The governor is absolutely right! These public servants have done an incredible job of keeping our government functioning throughout the recession and the drastic budget cuts over the past five years. These state employees have earned these raises based on their merit, and the state is long overdue on unfreezing these merit raises.
So why is the governor waiting until January of next year to do it? If it is because of the state’s finances, then why is he announcing it now instead of at the time when he actually unfreezes the merit raises?
The answer is politics. The governor is unfreezing the raises next year because next year is an election year and he wants to keep his job. He is announcing the raises now instead of later because he wants to boost his poll numbers earlier in an attempt to scare off potential challengers in the Republican primary.
The governor’s poll numbers have been heading in the wrong direction ever since the Accountability Act was passed. That’s why the governor tried to delay the new voucher program by two years – to get him through next year’s elections.
It is time for the governor and the Republican Supermajority in Montgomery to stop playing politics with state employees’ livelihoods. These are families that depend on their income to survive. These employees pay their taxes and serve the state. They don’t deserve to be treated like pawns in a political game.
Over the past three years, Democrats in the Alabama legislature have fought for state employees to be treated with respect, and to receive a much-deserved cost-of-living pay increase.
It has been five years since state employees have received any pay increase – either merit or cost-of-living. In fact, they have had their pay cut by 2.5 percent while their costs of living increasd 7.5 percent.
At the same time, as the governor said, these employees have had to do more with less. And even Chief Justice Roy Moore – perhaps the most conservative elected official in the state – has warned of the consequences of these cuts to essential government functions, such as our courts.
The effect of the budget cuts has been that public servants have had to work well beyond the hours and terms of their contracts in order to keep our government functioning.
That is why reinstating merit raises is the least the governor can do for these state employees – especially after Republicans in the Alabama legislature wrote a budget that, once again, abandoned state employees. This budget did not include one cent for costs-of-living pay increases for state employees and retirees.
So the governor’s decision to reinstate the merit raises for state employees is a step in the right direction. But even so, it is a step that was only taken in an attempt to boost the governor’s chances for re-election.
State employees deserve to be treated with more respect than that. I am asking the governor to reinstate the merit raises immediately. Why wait until January? As the governor said, they have earned it!
It is time to stop playing politics with peoples’ livelihoods and start treating them with the respect they deserve. Give state employees their cost-of-living and merit raises because they have earned them; not because it is an election year and you want to get re-elected.
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.