Bentley fights back, asks legislators to listen to constituents

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Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, fighting back against critical comments from a top legislator, said Friday that he was never in favor of allowing people to use state tax dollars to go to private schools and said people in the state agree with him.

Gov. Robert Bentley discusses his first two years in office on Feb. 21, 2013.  (Montgomery Advertiser, Mickey Welsh)

Gov. Robert Bentley discusses his first two years in office on Feb. 21, 2013. (Montgomery Advertiser, Mickey Welsh)

“However it turns out, I may lose this battle but I’m on the right side of the people and we will eventually win the war,” he said.

A day after being criticized by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh for sending the Legislature an executive amendment to the controversial Alabama Accountability Act, Bentley urged lawmakers to listen to their constituents and not to legislative leadership.

Bentley signed an executive amendment on Wednesday delaying parts of the act, including the portion that allows parents of children in failing schools to receive a $3,500 tax credit to go to a private school or non-failing public school, for two years. He left in language allowing schools to apply to the state for waivers from some requirements to allow them to adjust to issues in their school or community.

“I was never a big fan of the tax credits,” Bentley said.

Bentley said poor families do not earn enough to receive a tax credit and said the $3,500 credit would not be enough to attend private schools.

Marsh, whose office declined comment on Friday and referred to his Thursday statement, expressed his disappointment in Bentley and pointed out Bentley’s words supporting the act when he signed it in March.

Bentley, a Republican, said he did not offer an executive amendment in March because there was a lot of rancor in the Legislature.

“I really wanted to preserve the flexibility. That’s why I signed the bill,” he said. “If I had sent that amendment at the time, there is a chance I could have lost the flexibility.”

He said he was hoping for a vehicle that would allow him to make changes. The governor said lawmakers presented him with a vehicle when they passed a bill amending the Accountability Act late in the session. Bentleys’ executive amendment is to that legislation.

Marsh, R-Anniston, vowed to kill the executive amendment, either by voting to override it or allowing it to die in the Senate basket, which would leave the original law intact without the changes in the bill intended to amend the act.

When asked why he delayed the tax credits and did not remove them if he did not want them in the law, Bentley said he was concerned that his amendment would not pass.

“I thought our chances of passing it were much better this way” and would give people time to process the issue, Bentley said.

The governor said he hoped pressure would build on lawmakers over the weekend. On Friday, the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce sent out letters supporting Bentley’s proposed delay.

“Do we have the votes to win this? I don’t know,” Bentley said.

He said he did not know that he would be able to change the law next year – an election year – but said officials can look at the related regulations that will be dealt with at the State Department of Education and the Alabama Department of Revenue.

The governor, in talking to the media and in a letter he sent to legislators on Friday, said he wanted to delay the tax credit to allow failing schools two years to improve and said that route is fiscally responsible, allowing the state to pay back more of the $423 million the state owes back to the Alabama Trust Fund by September 2015.

Marsh said Thursday that he refused “to kick the can down the road any longer” on offering students school choice.

Bentley said another reason for his executive amendment was that lawmakers sent him an education budget that had $35 million to pay back the Alabama Trust Fund while the governor’s budget proposal asked for $100 million.

Bentley said all he is asking for on Monday, the last day lawmakers meet for this legislative session, is an up or down vote in the House, where the proposal would start, and in the Senate.

A spokeswoman for House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said Friday that he continued to speak with members about the amendment and did not have any further comment.

– posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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