By Rep. Darrio Melton
The Legislature has officially adjourned for 2014, leaving the Governor with a tough decision to make by April 13.
On March 5, Governor Bentley came out strong in support of teachers, saying that he would veto an education budget that did not include a two-percent teacher pay raise and full funding for PEEHIP, the teacher’s health insurance program.
But Representative Bill Poole and Senator Trip Pittman, the chairs of the Education budget committees, maintained that the money was simply not available to fund PEEHIP and offer the teachers a raise.
This budget debate is not unfamiliar to the Alabama Legislature. From 2011 to 2013, the Republicans in the legislature cut teachers’ pay by 2.5 percent, before putting two percent back last year and calling it a “raise.”
I don’t know who taught them math, but my teachers taught me that taking away 2.5 percent, then adding two percent is still a loss of one-half percent.
A two percent raise this year would have amounted to a 1.5 percent raise over the last four years.
Now, we fast forward to April 8, 2014 when Governor Bentley has an education budget on his desk that does not include a teacher pay raise or full funding for PEEHIP.
If the Governor chooses to fight for the pay raise, he will have to call a special session of the legislature and bring everyone back to Montgomery at a time when many have primary races they are concerned about winning. Furthermore, a special session would cost the taxpayers a tremendous amount of money. Because it only requires a simple majority vote to override the Governor’s veto, Bentley is sure to be silenced by the Hubbard-Marsh faction.
But does that mean he shouldn’t stand up to do what he promised our educators?
When Governor Bentley threatened to veto the budget, it was like a school teacher threatening a student with detention if they broke the rules again. As soon as the teacher makes that threat, he or she is obligated to uphold it or the students will realize they can get away with anything. On the other hand, when the students know you mean business they won’t challenge your rules.
Too many times, Bentley has let the legislature ignore his threats and break the rules. Speaker Hubbard and Senate President Marsh have no respect for the Governor. If they did, they wouldn’t have challenged him on his budget requests.
By sending him a budget with nothing he asked for, they have turned their noses up at his office and told him that what he wants doesn’t matter. And that’s not right.
If Bentley wants another term as Governor, he must learn now to stand up for both the office of Governor and his policies as Governor. He must hold himself to the authority that his title commands, instead of shrinking away at signs of conflict.
Governor Bentley must give the budget back with a failing grade. He must send the legislature to Summer School until they get it right. If he doesn’t do it now, he’s asking for another term with no respect and no authority in the legislative process.
Representative Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010.