Gov. Robert Bentley to announce decision on education budget

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Gov. Robert Bentley delivers the State of the State address on Jan. 14, 2014.  Bentley said Monday he was still pushing for a two percent teacher pay raise. (Montgomery Advertiser, Mickey Welsh)

Gov. Robert Bentley delivers the State of the State address on Jan. 14, 2014. Bentley said Monday he was still pushing for a two percent teacher pay raise. (Montgomery Advertiser, Mickey Welsh)

Gov. Robert Bentley will announce Friday morning whether he will sign or veto the 2015 education budget, which includes increased funding for teacher insurance, but no pay raises for education employees.

The Governor is scheduled to make his announcement at 9 a.m. Friday, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Ardis. If Bentley signs the $5.9 billion Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget, it will take effect on Oct. 1. Should the Governor veto the ETF, the Legislature will be called into special session to reconsider funding for the state’s schools.

As passed by the Legislature on April 3, the education budget includes a $64 million increase for the Public Education Employees’ Health Insurance Program (PEEHIP), which could help the group close a $220 million deficit that threatened to increase co-pays and premiums for those enrolled in the program. It also includes a $10 million increase for pre-kindergarten programs, money to hire about 70 teachers — fewer than the 450 the Alabama State Department of Education sought — and slight increases for transportation and daily operating expenses at schools.

Bentley and legislative leaders announced a deal to increase PEEHIP funding on March 21, a day after a group of senators revolted against a House and Senate conference committee report that pegged funds for the program lower than what PEEHIP sought.

In the last week of the session, though, Bentley pushed legislators to include a two percent pay raise for teachers, part of his original budget proposal on Jan. 14. The proposal was never popular with Republican leadership in the Legislature, who said the estimated $76 million to fund the pay raise was not there. GOP leaders stressed the need to make the Rainy Day Fund whole. Lawmakers emptied the $437 million credit line in 2009 to offset the effects of proration; the fund, still owed about $163 million, must be fully restored by July, 2015.

Bentley on April 3 announced he would put the pay raise in certain bills and make adjustments in the ETF to pay for them; in response, the House and Senate passed the budgets and adjourned that evening, before Bentley could transmit changes.

The pay raise issue divided the GOP caucus. The Senate approved the compromise budget on an 18 to 16 vote; the House approved it 54 to 45. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said after adjournment last Thursday he was uncertain that he had the votes to stop any changes made by the Governor.

– posted by Brian Lyman

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