Gov. Robert Bentley says he’ll amend budget without teacher pay raise, insurance increase

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Governor Robert Bentley delivers his State of the State Address at the State Capitol Building in Montgomery, Ala. on Tuesday Jan 14, 2014. (Montgomery Advertiser, Mickey Welsh)

Governor Robert Bentley delivers his State of the State Address at the State Capitol Building in Montgomery, Ala. on Tuesday Jan 14, 2014. (Montgomery Advertiser, Mickey Welsh)

Gov. Robert Bentley said Wednesday he would amend any budget that did not include a pay raise for teachers and increased funding for insurance for education employees.

“If the Legislature doesn’t include my 2% pay raise for teachers & full funding for PEEHIP, I’ll send the budget back w/ an Exec. Amendment,” the governor’s office tweeted.

Bentley’s office said Wednesday the tweet would be their official statement.

The governor’s original budget proposal, submitted to the Legislature on Jan. 15, would have provided a two percent pay raise for education employees and an increase in state funding for PEEHIP from $714 per employee per month to $795 per employee per month. The Senate approved a budget last week that provides no additional funding for PEEHIP, and replaces the two percent pay raise with a one percent bonus.

PEEHIP faces a deficit in the coming fiscal year, which could require an increase in co-pays and premiums for state employees.

Bentley’s office and Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee chairman Trip Pittman, R-Daphne, essentially disagree over economic projections for the year and the amount of funding that will be needed to fully pay off the Rainy Day Account out of the Alabama Trust Fund, which must be made whole by July, 2015. The state still owes about $163 million to the fund.

Bentley’s budget proposed $27 million for repayment in 2015, assuming an improving economy would provide up to $135 million for repayment in the current budget year. Pittman’s budget, with more pessimistic projections, includes $62 million for repayment in 2015.

The governor’s budget also included $92 million in spending outside the Rolling Reserve cap, a restriction on growth in the Education Trust Fund budget based on a 15 -year average of overall growth in the fund, which Bentley said in January was used to fund the raises. Pittman’s budget included $23.5 million in spending outside the cap, largely to fund obligations to the PACT program.

Under the Alabama Constitution, the governor’s vetoes and executive amendments can be overridden by a majority vote of the House and Senate.

The Education Trust Fund is currently in the House; the House Ways and Means Education Committee Wednesday morning held hearings on the proposal. In a statement Wednesday, committee chairman Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, said “we still have far to go” in the budget process.

“It is simply premature for anyone to predict what final form the budget will take,”the statement said. “I can assure you, however, that it will be balanced and responsible, and it will fund the essential needs of public education.”

The budget will likely go to conference committee after the House passes it.

– posted by Brian Lyman

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