Gov. Robert Bentley‘s proposal to spend about $92 million outside the Rolling Reserve cap drew a cautious response Thursday from the chairman of the Senate education budget committee.
Bentley’s budget, unveiled Jan. 15, allocates about $5.8 billion in spending on the Education Trust Fund. However, it also includes about $92 million in gross sales tax revenue that the governor’s office described as education spending outside the ETF and not subject to the Rolling Reserve cap. The governor said last week that without the money, they would likely not be able to provide a 2 percent pay raise for teachers or meet funding requests by the board overseeing insurance for teachers.
House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, last week expressed skepticism about proposal.
Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne, the chairman of the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee, said he would speak with House Ways and Means Education chairman Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, on the matter. Poole’s father, the Demopolis city attorney, was shot in his office on Jan. 17; Poole has been away from the House this week. However, Pittman said Bentley’s budget “obviously circumvents the cap.”
“He has to present a budget and he has,” Pittman said. “But I believe we’re going to have to recalibrate.”
McCutcheon has surgery
Rep. Mac McCutcheon, R-Huntsville, was admitted to the hospital Tuesday for open-heart surgery that took place Friday, and the surgery reportedly went well. McCutcheon, the chairman of the House Rules Committee, is expected to return during the session, though no date has been set.
House members held a moment of silence for McCutcheon on Wednesday.
Exchange over LRS
The Alabama Senate passed a bill Thursday sponsored by Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, that allows for expungement of criminal records in certain circumstances. Before passage, the bill became a vehicle for criticism — by senators, and for senators.
On Jan. 16, Bedford went to the podium in the chamber after the bill was called and angrily criticized members of the Legislative Reference Service for what he said was failure to get a copy of an amended bill to him in time.
On Tuesday, Sen. Paul Bussman, R-Cullman, took to the podium and, without naming Bedford, referred to a senator who had “embarrassed and humiliated” the staff.
“I would hope this is not a precedent we set,” Bussman said. “The LRS has been a tremendous service for me, and they have done everything we asked them to do.”
Bussman said he “hoped there would be an apology” to the staff. Following his remarks, Bedford and Bussman could be seen having a discussion outside the Senate chamber.
“He called out employees, and I think it was done in an attempt to intimidate and embarrass the staff,” Bussman said Thursday. “And I didn’t think it was appropriate for the body.”
Bedford said Thursday he had resolved his issues with LRS.
Bussman declined to discuss the conversation the two of them had Tuesday; Bedford did not.
“I suggested to Senator Bussman that if he had something he wanted to talk to me about, he should come and talk to me man to man,” he said.
During the debate over the legislative reorganization Wednesday evening, Senate Democrats pressed the issue of the salaries of legislative employees, and whether they would be impacted by a new salary schedule that sponsor Jimmy Holley, R-Elba, said would also come in.
Holley, after a brief conversation with Senate President Pro Tem Marsh, said he could assure Senate Minority Leader Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, that the salaries would not shift. Figures replied that Marsh had made similar assurances about the Alabama Accountability Act, passed amid angry scenes in the Senate last February.
“Once you get burned, you remember that hot stove,” she said.
Marsh’s office said Thursday that legislative employees have long been at-will employees, and that the bill would not affect their status.