MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – Gov. Robert Bentley signed the education budget for the next fiscal year on Friday even though it did not include the 2 percent raise that he sought for teachers and school employees.
Bentley also announced that he would not force lawmakers into a special session over the issue of the raise. The governor cited the cost of a special session to taxpayers and the “attitude of the Legislature at this time.” However, Bentley said he would continue to push for the raise and did not rule out a special session later in the year.
“My strong push for a pay raise was to support our teachers, our bus drivers, our lunchroom workers and our janitors across this state because we have asked of them a lot,” Bentley said.
The governor said he might call lawmakers back to Montgomery in the fall if state revenue collections remain solid.
“We are not giving up on this,” Bentley said. “A special session and a 2-percent raise is not off the table, it just is at the present time.”
The Republican governor clashed with GOP legislative leaders over the raise. Bentley argued the state could afford it. Legislative leaders said the state couldn’t afford both a raise and increased health insurance costs.
On the final night of the legislative session, Bentley had urged legislators to approve the $5.9 billion education budget and related spending bills in time for him to attach executive amendments seeking the raise and then send the bills back to the Legislature for another vote. 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.
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh accused Bentley of breaking an agreement the governor and legislative leaders reached on the budget about two weeks before the session ended. Bentley said they agreed on including increased funding for health insurance, but a raise was not discussed.
After his loss in the legislative skirmish, Bentley took a few parting shots at lawmakers.
Bentley laid blame at lawmakers’ feet for the multiple bills that died on the final night of the session when legislators adjourned several hours before their traditional midnight quitting time. A proposed payday loan database and a revision of the state’s open meetings law were among the casualties, he said.
“It failed because the legislature adjourned five hours early,” Bentley said. “I believe in open meetings. I believe in transparency, and the legislature killed that bill.”
Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, praised Bentley’s decision to sign the budget.
“Unlike Washington, Republicans in the Alabama Legislature passed a balanced budget that provides needed funding for health insurance for education employees and retirees and prioritizes dollars that go directly into classrooms,” Hubbard said.
House Minority Leader Craig Ford accused Bentley’s raise push of being “election-year rhetoric” if he wasn’t willing to call an immediate special session.
Bentley and the entire Legislature are up for election this year.
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