Boothe: Ed budgets sound

Published 6:17 pm Friday, May 13, 2011

With slight variations in the House and Senate versions of the state Education budget, the Legislature will have its work cut out when it reconvenes May 24.

Though they vary only slightly, both budgets, estimated around $5.6 billion, increase class sizes and eliminate around 1,200 teacher positions, the Associated Press reports.

Rep. Alan Boothe, R-Troy, said this doesn’t mean the state will fire 1,200 teachers. “There will be retirements and things that occur anyways and the teachers will just not be hired back,” Boothe said.

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Boothe and Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, said overall, the budgets approved now are sound.

“I think it’s a solid education budget,” Taylor said. “I think it is fiscally responsible.”

But, both Boothe and Taylor realize there are things about the budget that are unpopular.

“We’ve combed every corner of the budget, but at the end of the day, we simply can’t balance the budget without addressing personnel costs,” Taylor said. “There are some things Governor Bentley proposed that are still going through the Legislature that will have to pass in order to make the budget work.”

One of these bills, House Bill 414, has stirred up some of Pike County’s own. The bill requires teachers and state employees to contribute a higher percentage of their monthly pay into the retirement system.

“It was not popular, but it was something that according to the people running the (retirement) system needs to be done,” Boothe said.

Taylor seconded this, citing a recent study that shows the Alabama Retirement System losing funding by 2023 if its stays on its current path.

“I want to make sure we save the retirement system and ensure those pension funds are there for our teachers. They earned it,” Taylor said. “While that will be painful for teachers and their families, we all have to realize that these pension funds are propped up by taxpayer money, and taxpayers in the private sector right now are also facing pay cuts, furloughs and skyrocketing health insurance costs, and they make a case that it’s not fair to them to continue asking them to pay more and more to continue supporting public employee benefits.”

Locally, both teachers and other taxpayers have written open letters to lawmakers, published in The Messenger.

“Since my personal bills are going up, not down, and you are reducing my salary, where should I cut from my own budget? How about the $400 plus dollars I would spend out of my own pocket next year for instructional supplies that my students and I use in my classroom?” said David Laliberte, a math instructor at Charles Henderson High School in a letter to the editor published April 28.

Still, both Taylor and Boothe agreed this will be a necessary move to ensure teachers maintain retirement benefits in the future.

The budget, which is around $5.6 billion for the 2012 fiscal year, was created without a $680 million boost from federal stimulus money, which lawmakers received last year.

“That money we lost now has to be paid for out of state dollars, which requires savings in other places,” Taylor said.

When the Legislature reconvenes, the House will take up the Senate version of the bill. If it does not pass it, a conference committee will be called to compromise with three members of the House and Senate. The AP reports this is the most likely option.

There is a $687,000 difference in the budgets.