Inside the Statehouse: New Fiscal Year Begins

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Steve Flowers

New Fiscal Year Begins

OPINION —

The new state fiscal year begins Oct. 1, and the two state budgets are flush. Both the General Fund and the State Special Education budgets will be the largest in state history. 

The General Fund Budget is a record-breaking $2.7 billion. It increases the revenue to mental health and prisons. Medicaid continues to be a money-eating monster. State employees are getting a 4% cost of living raise. This is the third time in recent history that state workers have gotten back-to-back pay raises. In addition, retired state employees will get a bonus. State Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Escambia) and Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark), the budget chairmen, deserve accolades. 

Veteran Alabama State Employees Association Executive Director Mac McArthur deserves a lot of credit for state employees getting a 4% pay increase this year and 2% last year. McArthur has put together four raises in five years for his folks.

Amy Marlowe, head of the Alabama Education Association (“AEA”), and her chief lobbyist ally, Ashley McLain, deserve kudos for garnering a 4% teacher pay raise. Once again, the AEA has become a power to be reckoned with on Goat Hill.

The legislature passed a record-breaking $8.17 billion Education Budget. The historic spending plan increases education funding by about $502 million over the current year. It drew praise from all corners of education for its increases, which include teachers’ salaries and workforce development. There will be more money for classroom materials, the hiring of technology coordinators and reading coaches and $20 million to implement the K-5 math instruction bill.

The budget includes a 4% raise for teachers and lump-sum bonuses for retirees. There is also about a $33 million bonus to increase teacher longevity. Other states have been giving similar salary adjustments. One of the budget allotments that has gotten the most accolades is the increase from $700 to $900 per classroom in supply money.

The story that has been building the past several years is the resurgence of the AEA as a power player on Goat Hill. The fruits of their labor emerged immensely during the regular session. It is apparent that AEA was instrumental in crafting the Education Budget with the 4% pay increase for teachers and the money that is going into the classroom. You would have thought that Dr. Paul Hubbert was still sitting in the gallery directing legislators’ votes with a thumbs up or a thumbs down. They have built AEA into a power to be reckoned with at the statehouse.

The new leadership of Marlowe and McLain have reorganized by acknowledging that Alabama, and especially the Alabama Legislature, is very Republican. They understand the rule that “money is the mother’s milk of politics,” and “you win more bees with honey.”

The AEA has generously donated to house Republicans like nobody’s business, and no other Special Interest entity. It is no longer taboo or heresy for a Republican legislator or state senator to accept teacher union money. They have made $10,000 to $15,000 contributions to house members on both sides of the aisle. In reviewing campaign disclosure statements, AEA is the only entity writing checks that large. Checks to senator’s coffers are $25,000 or more.

AEA lobbyists, especially McLain, have earned the friendship and respect of the Republican house members and senators. She and her team have gone out to their districts all over the state and gotten to know them and their families. They have connected the legislator with key educators in their hometowns who are respected centers of influence and can orchestrate a field or army of teachers to work the districts for their legislative friends. This footwork and shoe leather, coupled with large campaign checks, hits home with legislators of both parties.

The telling blow that resonated and echoed off the walls of the statehouse was the defeat of the so-called School Choice Bill. Sen. Del Marsh made it his final mission to place state education dollars into private, parochial and charter schools. His school choice was given a stinging defeat by none other than the AEA. Folks, make no doubt about it — the AEA is back in Alabama politics.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

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