Bentley has until April 13 to sign budget

(AP Photo/Dave Martin)
(AP Photo/Dave Martin)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – Gov. Robert Bentley hasn’t decided if he will sign the state’s Education Trust Fund budget without the teacher raise he sought, or if he will veto it and force lawmakers into a special session.

“The governor is reviewing the ETF and there is no time frame on when he will make a decision,” Bentley communications director Jennifer Ardis said Friday.

Bentley has until the end of the day on April 13 to sign the budget into law or it will die through a pocket veto. A top legislative Democrat said a special session would show Bentley was serious about the raise, while some veteran Republicans said they doubted Bentley would call them back to Montgomery.

“I hope he’s not going to call a special session. I would certainly not think that would be the case,” Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said Thursday night.

Republicans approved a budget that puts more money into health insurance after saying the state did not have money to pay for both a raise and insurance costs

The Republican governor urged legislators Thursday to approve the education budget and state employee bonuses in time for him to attach executive amendments seeking a 2 percent raise for K-12 education employees.

The GOP-controlled legislature did the opposite. Lawmakers gave final approval to the budget and then left town for the year, leaving Bentley no time to offer an amendment.

Republican Sen. Cam Ward, who also sought the 2 percent teacher raise, said he doubted Bentley would call them into special session.

“I wanted the 2 percent pay raise. I pushed for it. I advocated for it, but I lost,” Ward, R-Alabaster, said.

Ward said he wasn’t sure a special session would yield a different result.

House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, said Bentley’s push for a raise was only “election-year politics” if he doesn’t call a special session.

“I want him to step up and be the governor and back up what he said. The ball is in his court. All he has to veto the budget and we can be in next Monday,” Ford said.

A five-day special session would cost about $100,000, according to an estimate from the clerk of the House of Representatives.

The Republican legislative leaders accused Bentley of breaking an agreement reached more than a week ago to fund insurance over a raise. Bentley disputed there was an agreement.

It would have taken 53 votes in the House of Representatives to override a gubernatorial veto. The House on Thursday approved a conference committee report on the budget by a 54-45 vote. However, an override, which could be viewed as a vote on a raise, could be seen as a politically riskier vote.

Bentley and GOP legislative leaders disagreed all session long over how much the state could spend in the Education Trust Fund. Bentley’s proposed budget rerouted $92 million to get around an Education Trust Fund spending cap that he signed into law in 2011. The governor said the cap was artificially low and that his proposed budget was still responsible.

“We have the money. Our budget showed that. We believe that’s what we should do to reward our teachers and support personnel,” Bentley said of the raise.

Legislators’ spending plan also skirted the cap, but by a lesser amount.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said that a 2 percent raise would have cost $80 million the state doesn’t have. “It would have been fiscally irresponsible to pass it with a 2 percent raise,” Marsh said.

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