End of session reveals positive signs

Published 11:00 pm Thursday, June 6, 2013

The 2013 legislative session has come to an end. Our legislature, both the House and Senate, is Republican controlled. In fact, both chambers have super Republican majorities. They were elected in 2010. Therefore, this is the third year of their four-year reign. The GOP holds about a two to one advantage in both the upper and lower chambers. This will more than likely remain the same after the 2014 elections.

These GOP lawmakers have left an indelible conservative mark on state government and public policy. Their reactionary philosophy has resonated on both social and budgetary matters. Perhaps they are a reflection of the state. My perception is that they portray an accurate mirror of their constituency. Their actions over the past three years have not only been conservative, they have been decisive and functional.

Many of these new Republican legislators are small businessmen who are accustomed to running a tight ship. They do not adhere to the dilatory practices of past Democratic bodies. These guys and gals, mostly guys, came to Montgomery to do business and get things done in an expedient and prudent manner and that they have done.

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A good example of their trademark is the way they dealt with the State’s Education Budget. They passed it early. It is sound and was drafted by two astute and practical and successful businessmen. Rep. Jay Love of Montgomery owned a chain of Subway franchises in and around the Capital City and sold out several years ago. He is starting over with the same scenario in the pizza business. He chairs the House Education Committee. His counterpart in the Senate is Sen. Trip Pittman of Baldwin County. Pittman is a big affable guy who owns a tractor dealership in his home county. Both are very likeable chaps.

Their Education Budget is solid and sustainable. Teachers will receive a 2% increase in pay. However, this does not get them back to what they were taking home four years ago. Pre-kindergarten programs will get $12 million more in funding. In addition, the legislature is paying back $35 million borrowed from the Education Trust Fund’s rainy day account. The budget also includes $45 million for the two most controversial issues of the 2013 legislative session – the Education Accountability Act and liability insurance for teachers.

The Accountability Bill is essentially a tax relief voucher bill for upper income families who live in poor counties that have failing public schools. It is designed to give them a tax credit for sending their children to private schools. It further exacerbates the problems of public education in Alabama because the tax credit given to these well-heeled parents so that they can send their children to private schools comes directly from public education dollars. The cost of this private school voucher program is actually difficult to ascertain. Late in the session Gov. Bentley proposed delaying this rancorous legislation for two years. However, the legislature overrode him.

It is a well-known fact that many teachers in the state only belong to the Alabama Education Association for the liability insurance offered by the AEA for its members. The legislature put $5 million into the Education Budget for the state to pay teachers’ liability insurance. This is another dagger in the heart of the once vaunted AEA. The legislature further added insult to injury when they passed legislation to remove the head of the AEA from the board that controls teachers’ retirement funds.

This Republican legislature has systematically dismantled the AEA’s power in a calculated Machiavellian manner. The philosophy of Machiavelli dictates that when you have the king down you cut of his head and kill him. This herd of elephants has stomped on the heart and soul of the AEA over the past three years. The new head of the AEA, Henry Mabry, who took the place of the legendary King of Goat Hill, Dr. Paul Hubbert, has taken his beatings in an indignant, arrogant and pompous manner, which has not helped their cause. It is as though he thinks the AEA is still powerful and relevant. The fact is that the janitors at the Statehouse have more influence over education dollars and policy than Henry Mabry and the AEA. In fact, the janitor may be more effective because the Republican leadership is not striving to find ways to run over and bury him.

The encouraging thing for Alabamians should be that there is an increase in the amount of funds available for education. This is a definite sign that Alabama’s economy is on the upswing because the state’s income and sales taxes are earmarked for education.

Steve Flowers served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.