By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
The Alabama Senate cleared a bill Tuesday that would give most retired state employees and retired educators a small one-time bonus.
The two bills to authorize the bonuses, the size of which will depend on how long the employee or teacher worked with the state, slid through the Senate with votes of 28 to 1 and 27 to 1 with one abstention.
State legislators, buoyed by improving revenues and non-controversial budgets this year, pushed for these one-time bonuses along with pay raises for current state employees and educators.
Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, a former teacher, carried the two bills that, if passed by the House and signed by the governor, will give retired workers a small pay increase.
Dial said the bonuses are long overdue.
“We’ve not rewarded these people and we have not told them in years how much we appreciate their work and the contributions they’ve made,” the Lineville senator said. “This is the beginning of a process to show thank you, thank you for your work, thank you for being an educator, and thank you for being in that field.”
The original versions of the bonuses would have given state employees and educators one-time bonuses of $400. The substitutes approved in the Senate Tuesday changed that to $1 per month worked.
Under the plan approved Tuesday, a retired educator or state employee who worked 25 years for the state or public schools would receive a $300 bonus. Someone who worked 50 years would get a $600 one-time bonus.
There’s no cap on the bonuses.
Dial said the new version would give larger bonuses to those who invested more time into the system and less to those that are just getting started.
“It’s not really fair to give a ten-year person $400 and give a 30-year person $400. There’s a whole lot of inequity in that,” Dial said.
The new version would cost the state $6.4 million for retired state employee bonuses and $24 million for retired educator bonuses, according to the bills’ fiscal notes. Those numbers came down under the new plan approved Tuesday. The original versions would have cost the state $8.9 million for retired employees and $34 million for retired educators.
Some Democrats including Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, said retired workers and educators deserved more than just a few hundred dollars.
“They have been sitting and waiting regardless of whether they taught 30 years or whether they taught 20 years,” Singleton said. “It’s still the profession, and they are deserving of it.”
Though he voted yes on the measure, Singleton said he would have preferred the original plan to give all retired workers and educators a $400 bonus. He said the education could handle bigger bonuses.
“We just have money sitting away, doing nothing,” Singleton said of the Education Budget, which is funded largely by income and use taxes. “It’s not helping our students.”
Sen. Paul Sanford voted against the bills.
Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said the bonuses were a good step toward showing appreciation for the state retirees.
“I like the approach this body has taken,” Marsh said. “I think it’s a fiscally responsible approach on this.”
The two pieces of legislation will now head to the House of Representatives.