All eyes are focused on difficult state budgetsPublished 9:56am Wednesday, April 13, 2011
As the Legislative Session approaches the midway point all eyes are centered on the state budgets. The state is facing the most devastating financial abyss since the Great Depression. The Education and General Funds are both in dire straits. The state coffers are lower by $250 million than expected and no federal stimulus money is available this year. The Democratic majority in the legislature was more optimistic than pragmatic with their revenue projections when they were drafting the budgets last year. Their lack of prudence has left the state in deep proration and left the new Republican led Legislature with a Herculean task.
If any group is capable of balancing the state’s budgets it is this new Republican legislature. They are true blue fiscal conservatives. To call them Tea Partiers would be a misnomer. They are far to the right of the national Tea Party movement. This group will have no qualms slicing and dicing state government. Many of them would rather do away with the government altogether. If truth were known, most would favor doing away with Medicaid which would definitely balance the General Fund. It would not be surprising to many insiders if they chose to balance the Education Budget by rolling back teachers’ salaries to 1950’s levels. These reactionary stalwart solons have no sacred cows, groups, or individuals they are beholden to or have to protect, especially not the AEA.
What a difference a year makes. This time last year King Paul Hubbert, the pontiff of AEA, controlled the legislature. He had been in power for several decades. Governors would come and go and he would render them irrelevant in the process of budgeting education dollars, which account for over 70% of all tax dollars allocated in Alabama. Legislators would listen to a governor give his state of state address and decry the power of King Hubbert but would then laugh at him and throw his budgets in the nearest trash can and defer to Dr. Hubbert to write the Education Budget.
Well my friends, one year later King Hubbert has been dethroned. He no longer writes the Education Budget. He has no say in the legislative process. The November election, which overwhelmingly swept Republicans into majorities in the House and Senate, washed away most of his Democrats and power. However, it was not enough to simply dethrone him. The new Republicans set out to decapitate the king and his powerful union. Within a month of their victory, lame duck Gov. Bob Riley embarked on a mission to kill the king while he was down. Riley called a special session under the guise of ethics reform. However, his priority and Bill #1 was an act to disallow teachers and school support personnel from paying their dues through automatic payroll deductions from state paychecks. This act of retribution will have a chilling effect on the AEA and the State Employees Association. In essence they may have laughed at Riley but he had the last laugh.
This act will have a significant effect on the power and influence of the AEA, which represents more than 90% of Alabama’s teachers. Most of these members used payroll deduction to pay into the organization. The combination of a new GOP super majority in the legislature coupled with the elimination of the automatic dues deduction has not only diminished the organization’s power but has rendered it hapless.
Another shoe dropped on the once omnipotent king as the new legislative session began. The assault on the influence of King Hubbert’s teachers’ organization came on two new fronts. The GOP legislature is working on a bill to provide liability insurance for all Alabama teachers. However, for years one of the primary incentives for educators to join the AEA was that the union provided liability insurance. The Republican legislature dealt yet another blow to Hubbert and the AEA by dismantling the DROP program. They made quick work of ending this lucrative extra incentive retirement program enjoyed by high income and high profile education personnel. In fact, Dr. Hubbert and his cohort Dr. Joe Reed were the top two beneficiaries in this program. Both have over $1 million in the deferred retirement option program.
Yes, things do change in Alabama politics. In 2010 the AEA spent over $9 million on the elections. The anti-Democratic tsunami that engulfed Alabama made the money meaningless. That tidal wave changed the landscape in Montgomery for years to come.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 72 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.