By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
One of the worst things a politician can do is make idle threats—and that is exactly what has happened with the education budget.
Earlier this month, Gov. Bentley announced that he would veto any budget that did not include a 2 percent pay increase for educators and increase funding for their health insurance.
I was proud to see our governor take a bold stand for our educators. After four years of constant attacks on our public schools and educators, it was a welcome change to see someone other than House and Senate Democrats fight for our educators.
But this week, the governor announced that he had reached an agreement that only fulfilled half of this promise. While the new budget proposal would fully fund PEEHIP (the health insurance program for public education employees), it does not include the pay raise that the governor and Democrats have demanded.
Unfortunately, the governor is now backing down from his pledge. In fact, it didn’t even take a week for the governor to begin backtracking on his promise to veto a budget that doesn’t include the raise. In a press conference on March 13th, the governor told reporters that his options were now limited.
No they aren’t! It’s simple: either the budget includes a pay raise or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, then you veto it and send it back to the legislature to start again.
By backing down, not only has Gov. Bentley sold out our educators, he has also shown that his threats don’t mean anything.
As a parent, if I tell my children there will be consequences for misbehaving and then I do nothing when they act up my kids would have no reason to do as I say. You cannot make idle threats and expect to continue to be able to effectively lead or be in charge. It’s that simple.
By showing that his threats are empty, the legislature now has no reason to fear anything from the governor. The legislature will be able to call his bluff every time from now on.
But more importantly, the governor has now lost his ability to stand up for educators. Any promise the governor makes now comes with a grain of salt. No educator can ever take him at his word.
The original education budget that the governor proposed was a fiscally responsible budget that not only fully funded PEEHIP, but also provided a 2 percent raise for educators. It was a good budget and I would have been happy to vote for it.
There is no reason the legislature cannot accept the budget the governor proposed. Some Republican leaders have claimed that the governor’s budget went around the Rolling Reserve spending cap while the House and Senate version did not. Using that reason, the budget cannot give educators a pay raise.
That is simply not true.
The House version of the education budget spent $24 million beyond the Rolling Reserve cap. If we can go beyond the cap by $24 million, then why can’t we go beyond it to give our educators a raise the way governor proposed?
The money was meant for the education budget; not to sit unused in a bank account, especially since we already have a Rainy Day savings account to protect us from proration.
The governor’s original position was right! Our educators have earned a 2 percent cost-of-living pay increase— and we have the money and the ability to give them that raise. Legislative leaders are wrong to tell you otherwise, and the governor is wrong to back down now after he made a promise.
The good news is that it’s not too late. The governor can still keep his word and veto the budget if a pay raise is not included. But since he has backtracked for two weeks on that promise, I don’t have much hope that he will keep his word on this one.
This idle threat has been costly. It cost our educators the cost-of-living pay raise they deserve, and it cost the governor his ability effectively manage the State House. We need to stop playing politics with educators’ paychecks and mean the things we say. Unfortunately, neither educators nor anyone else has any reason now to trust what our state leaders in Montgomery say.
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.