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House concurs on Education Budget, passes bonus money for education retirees

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, the Alabama House of Representatives voted to concur with the conference committee version of the Education Trust Fund budget. The House also passed legislation giving Alabama’s Education retirees a one-time bonus check.

House Bill 175, the Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget, had already passed both Houses of the Alabama Legislature; but each House had passed a different version of the ETF. A conference committee had been appointed to iron out the mostly minor differences between the two versions of HB175.

HB175 was sponsored by State Representative Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, who chairs the House Ways and Means Education Committee that is tasked with writing the ETF each year. Alabama is unique in that it has two budgets: one dealing with education, the ETF, and one dealing with non-education spending the state General Fund budget.

Alabama also has billions of dollars in other revenues that are earmarked for specific purposes that do not show up in the budgeting process. Fuel taxes for example go to the Department of Transportation and a portion goes to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency for patrolling the highways.

The Secretary of State’s office does not even get an appropriation from either budget as Secretary John Merrell has been able to operate his department off of the corporate filing fees and other revenues that the Department collects.

The Public Service Commission (PSC) is funded entirely through utility taxes and then sends the surplus back to the SGF. Other agencies like the Department of Public Health, Alabama Medicaid, and the Department of Human Resources take their SGF appropriation and uses it as matching dollars to draw down $billions in federal dollars.

Poole recommended that the House adopt the conference committee version of HB175. There are some differences in the amount appropriated to a number of agencies in this version of HB175 versus the version that had originally passed the House. There are also differences in wording.

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The biggest of these perhaps is wording over what happens when a new school system is formed. Poole said that this states that, “The money follows the child.” This was not written for any specific future school system and Poole did not know if any new school system would break away in fiscal year 2019 or not though did acknowledge that Gulf Shores was talking about possibly starting a new system to break away from the Baldwin County School System. Gardendale had tried to form its own school system; but was blocked from breaking away from Jefferson County by the federal courts.

State Rep. Phil Williams, R-Huntsville, praised Poole for the work that he does on the education budget. Williams said that this was the best education budget ever.

The ETF is $6.63 billion for FY2019. Education employees receive a 2.5 percent pay increase.

State Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, complained that Alabama A&M did not get enough state funding in the version of HB175 that originally passed the House.

Poole said that the Senate added another $175,000 for Alabama A&M.  The conference committee kept that extra funding in HB175.  Rep. Hall said that she was still not satisfied with that.

The House voted 98 to 0 to concur with the conference committee report on HB175.

The House also passed Senate Bill 21 which gave Alabama’s education retirees a one-time bonus check. SB21 is sponsored by State Senator Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, and was carried in the House by State Representative Connie Rowe, R-Jasper.

SB21 gives the retirees a $1 a month bonus for every month that they worked. A teacher who retired after 25 years of service would get a $300 check. A thirty year employee would get a $360 bonus check.

The bill was universally popular with legislators; but Rep. Rowe faced some heavy questioning from State Representative Merika Coleman, D-Midfield, who was angry because Rowe, a former Jasper police chief, had help worked to defeat Coleman’s politically correct racial profiling bill, Senate Bill 84.

SB84 is sponsored by State Senator Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, and is being carried in the House by Coleman. Law enforcement strongly opposes SB84 because of the onerous reporting requirements and fears that the bill is just a vehicle to generate law suits against police departments. The House rejected SB84 on Thursday on the Budget Isolation Resolution (BIR) vote.

Coleman and Smitherman negotiated a compromise version of SB84 with House leadership before the business day began on Tuesday. The leadership put SB84 back on the special order calendar for Tuesday, but the House adjourned at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday night because they still did not have the votes to pass SB84. The Alabama Political Reporter was told that several sheriffs still strongly oppose the latest version of SB84. Smitherman is threatening to hold the session hostage, filibustering everything, unless he gets his SB84 passed.

SB21 passed the House 86-0. The bonus will cost the ETF budget $26 million. However, Rowe amended SB21 to pay the bonus in June instead of in October like the original version had called for. This change means that SB21 still has to go back to the Senate, which is tied up with House Bill 317 by Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton, exempting economic developers from having to register as lobbyists.

The Senate still has to act on concurring with HB175, the ETF budget.

Some members had been hoping that Wednesday would be the last day of the 2018 Legislative Session; but the lack of progress on Tuesday may have made that goal unattainable.

 

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