By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
State leaders in Montgomery have become Robin Hoods—just not the kind that everyone remembers hearing about as a child. Instead of taking from the rich to help the poor, we’ve started taking from the poor to give to criminals. Alabama’s leadership has become nothing more than Robin Hood in reverse.
State leaders needs to refocus; trying to give money that should go to our children’s education and healthcare to build super prisons is not the Alabama values voters thought they would be getting. Since when did the comfort level of murders and rapists supersede properly paying the law enforcement officers guarding the prisons? It certainly shouldn’t supersede the pay raise that our state employees, educators and retirees deserve.
Except it has. After 8 years of no cost-of-living raises, the Legislature finally passed a 4 percent raise only to have the PEEHIP board take it away through increases in educators’ health insurance premiums. State leaders have said nothing about what the PEEHIP board has done, but they fought to the very last minute of the legislative session to approve an $800 million loan to build four super prisons. I wish they would explain to me how they are ok with putting the taxpayers in a 30-year, $1.5 billion debt to build new prisons for murderers and child abusers, but we can’t find it in the budget to properly pay the men and women who are guarding them or our state employees and the educators in our classrooms.
As one teacher posted on Facebook, after the increase in premiums she will be lucky if her raise is $20 a month! And remember that active educators have not had a pay raise for eight years! Retired public educators didn’t even get the 4 percent, but they are still getting stuck with the increase in their premiums.
I have heard some people make the argument that teachers only work nine months out of the year, and they should just be happy with what they have. But this argument just isn’t accurate. For one thing, the school year now runs from early August through late May-ten months rather than nine. And for most educators, the summer is not a two-month long beach vacation; summer is a time for team camps, practices and workouts, teaching summer school, attending professional development workshops or working summer jobs to help make ends meet. When they do get to enjoy some time during the summer to relax and spend time with their families, believe me they have earned it! When you consider the amount of hours worked by the average educator during the ten-month school year, they actually work more hours than the average person working 40 hours per week works in 12 months.
Educators work hard and have one of the most important responsibilities we can give a person: educating our children. Compared to other similarly educated and certified professionals, such as accountants, nurses or engineers, educators make on average about $10,000 a year less. Surely they deserve the modest 4 percent raise the legislature passed. And for the PEEHIP board to come behind the Legislature and take that raise away is nothing short of theft! Not to mention the impact it has on educators’ morale.
I just can’t wrap my head around the idea that the Republican leadership in this state thinks it’s ok to steal educators’ pay raise and that they don’t have to fund Medicaid (which pays for 53 percent of births in Alabama and primarily provides healthcare to children), but they are willing to put the taxpayers in an $1.5 billion debt over the next 30 years so murderers, rapists and child abusers can live in nice facilities. I just don’t understand how they can be willing to spend that kind on money on prisoners, but continue to let the men and women guarding those prisoners be the lowest paid law enforcement officers in the state.
Alabama’s leadership has been acting like Robin Hood in reverse. They take from children, educators and correctional officers, and they want to give to murderers, rapists and child abusers. After all their talk about Democrats being in control for 136 years, if this is what Republican leadership looks like after just 6 years, I’d hate to see what would happen if they get 130 years more!
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.