Jones: State couldn’t afford raises

Published 12:03 am Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Alabama Senate passed a $5.9 billion Education Trust Fund Budget Thursday night, and immediately adjourned before Gov. Robert Bentley could offer an amendment for a 2 percent pay raise for teachers.

Rep. Mike Jones said he voted for the budget, and thought it was better for the budget to fund more of insurance premiums than to add the pay raise.

“In looking at information given to me to read by the chairman of the Education Trust Fund committee, I didn’t see we could do both without violating the Rolling Reserve Act,” he said.

Funding benefits at a level that would not require more contribution from education employees was the equivalent of a 5 percent raise, Jones said. It also covers that cost for education retirees.

“I would have supported the 2 percent raise if we could have done it within the rolling reserve,” he said. “But we desperately need to do more to help dual enrollment and to provide funding for technical training. For me, that was the choice. It was that simple to me, and we couldn’t take away any more from those things.”

Jones voted against the financially strapped General Fund budget.

“There’s not enough revenue to support it, so it’s a matter of prioritizing what’s there,’ he said. “In my view, you start by funding the things you have to have, then you work out to things you want to have.”

Jones said the judicial branch of government has not been adequately funded, and is not in the 2015 budget.

“I identified where money was located that could be moved and reprioritized,” he said.

He said that the judicial system is one of several places in the budget where cuts mean losses in revenue. For instance, with parts of courthouses closed some days across the state, it decreases the courts’ ability to collect fines, child support payments, and court fees.

“That costs us money,” he said.

Similarly, cuts to conservation or DHR and mean cuts in federal matching dollars for those agencies.

A bill that would have given state employees – who haven’t had a raise in years – a $400 one-time bonus, died.

“With a $400 bonus that’s taxed, the net effect is probably $280,” Jones said. “But if you throw that out statewide, that’s $4.5 million. With $4.5 million, you could hire people back, open some courthouse doors, and generate more money. Consolidation is something we clearly have to do. But when you start reducing revenue coming in, you get diminishing returns.”

Jones said he would have liked to help both groups of employees.

“But at the end of the day, you have to weigh and balance,” he said.