House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said Monday morning he will recommend that House Republican caucus members vote to override Gov. Robert Bentley’s proposed two-year delay of implementation of tax credits and scholarships associated with the Alabama Accountability Act.
The Speaker said he wanted to see changes to the law approved by the Legislature to go into effect.
“The best choice for us to make, unfortunately, is to override the governor’s veto,” Hubbard said before the House came into session Monday morning.
Hubbard said caucus members would be allowed a free vote.
The Act allows families of students in schools designated as failing to claim a tax credit worth more than $3,500 to apply for tuition at a private school or a non-failing public one. The state’s Education Trust Fund budget includes $40 million to absorb the costs of the Act; outside groups have estimated the costs at running from $50 million to $367 million.
Bentley announced his proposed delay last week, saying the state needed to focus on repaying over $400 million borrowed out of the Alabama Trust Fund’s Rainy Day Account, to prevent proration in the budget. The money must be paid back in full by 2015.
“While we are all working extremely hard to ensure that our economy continues to improve, it would be irresponsible to ignore the risk of slower growth than is currently estimated,” Bentley wrote in the letter. The governor said later in the week that he “was never a fan” of the tax credits, and said he preferred provisions in the law that allow schools to apply for waivers from certain state education laws.
Jeremy King, a spokesman for Bentley, said Monday the governor still believed his approach was the most “fiscally responsible.”
“It will also give schools the next two years to put flexibility provisions in place that will make an impact,” he said.
Hubbard said House Republicans always had a plan to pay the money back.
“We always had a plan to pay back the Rainy Day Fund,” Hubbard said. ”To call us fiscally irresponsible is incorrect.”
Hubbard said he had spoken the governor last week and asked for a compromise that would have allowed the credits to go into effect, but allowed donations to groups called scholarship granting organizations, which give money to qualifying students to attend private schools, to go forward.
“Who’s against providing scholarships to poor kids?” Hubbard said. Hubbard said Bentley told him late last week he was “dug in” on the issue.
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said last week he would kill Bentley’s proposed amendment if it came to the Senate.
At a press conference Monday morning, Senate Democrats threw plenty of jabs at the Accountability Act, and accused Bentley of calling for the delay to take a potentially explosive issue off the table for the 2014 elections, something Bentley has denied. Senate Minority Leader Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, said caucus members would be allowed to “follow their own conscience” if Bentley’s amendment comes to a vote in the upper chamber, but said the caucus had not changed its mind on the legislation.
“The caucus’ stand is it should be repealed, period,” she said.
– posted by Brian Lyman