By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
State employees play a vital role in our state’s economy and in providing critical services that we rely on. We ask a lot of our state employees, and we trust them with tremendous responsibility. They run the state’s Board of Nursing and the Medical Licensure Commission. They maintain our roads as well as operate our courts and the Department of Forensic Sciences. Everything from our public universities and two-year colleges to the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Department of Veterans Affairs is managed and operated by state employees.
Yet we have not provided our state employees with a cost-of-living pay increase since 2008. The cost of living has gone up 10 percent since then. Even merit raises were frozen from 2009 until this year.
The General Fund budget passed out of the state House of Representatives last week includes a “conditional” 4 percent pay raise. That means state employees will only get that raise if the state brings in more revenue than is expected. According to Gov. Bentley this raise isn’t likely to happen unless the U.S. Congress passes a law allowing the state to collect sales tax on Internet purchases.
House Democrats offered an amendment to the pay raise bill that would have taken out the word “conditional” and guaranteed the 4 percent pay raise, but the Republicans in the Alabama legislature killed the amendment.
Basically, the truth is our state employees are once again being left out. All this talk about a “conditional” pay raise is just election rhetoric from the Republican Supermajority in Montgomery.
State leaders will tell you that there is not enough money for a pay raise for state employees. That’s hogwash!
The answer is simple: we are budgeting backwards. Instead of budgeting for everything else first and then seeing if the money is there for a raise, we should put the raise in first and then budget everything else around that.
Budgeting is all about priorities. Like the Bible says in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” You can tell what certain legislative leaders’ priorities are by where they have put our tax dollars. And those priorities do not include the state employees who manage agencies like the Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention or the prosecutors in the Attorney General’s and District Attorneys’ offices.
Our state employees are critical to the function of Alabama. They keep our government running and provide crucial services that the people of Alabama rely on. But, they are also customers who shop at local businesses. Giving state employees a pay raise means they will be able to spend more at local businesses, which will help grow our economy and in turn, benefit everyone.
Some of the best political advice I ever got came from an old judge who told me: “If you try to do the right thing the politics will take care of itself.” There’s a lot of wisdom in that statement, and there is no doubt in my mind that the right thing to do is to give our state employees the cost-of-living pay increase they deserve. It’s not whether we can do it, but whether we will do it.
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.