February 3, 2016
2016 Legislative Session Begins, Governor Releases Budget Proposal
The Alabama Legislature opened the 2016 Regular Legislative Session this week. While the legislature can procedurally prepare itself for bills to be introduced and debated on the first day, many committee meetings were held on Wednesday. Several of the House Republican Caucus Agenda items were heard in committee and are expected to be debated by the full House next week. This session, like last year, the budgets will be the focal point of much debate. Legislative leaders seem to be on the same page that both budget will move quickly through the process. The Education Trust Fund, which is in much better shape than the General Fund and will have an expected $382 million more in funding this year, will start in the House while the General Fund Budget, expected to have a 10% shortfall, will begin in the Senate under its new Committee Chairman Senator Trip Pittman.
On the evening of the first legislative day, Governor Robert Bentley delivered his sixth State of the State Address outlining his ideas for this session, and on Wednesday he released his budget proposals. The proposals would call for a $6.3 billion education budget and a $1.93 billion General Fund. Bentley would seek a two percent raise for teachers, community college employees and state workers. But it also calls for cuts to many departments, and could lead to increased insurance costs for teachers and employees.
The budget would not raise taxes. Bentley’s proposal would call for the transfer of $181 million from the education budget to the General Fund, in part to pay for state employee raises. The legislature will have final say on the budget and what raises are possible for employees and have to approve any transfers from the ETF to the General Fund.
Senate Republican Caucus Releases Agenda
The Alabama Republican Senate Caucus released their agenda “Continuing Positive Progress” on Wednesday, outlining what leadership will be placing a priority on for this session.
The Republican Senate Agenda includes the following themes (information provided by the Alabama Senate Republican Caucus):
Spur Economic Growth
- Make Economic Incentives More Flexible & Accountable
Alabama competes against other states daily for new industries and business expansions. Creating more flexibility to craft responsible, pay-as-you-go incentive packages will result in more jobs for Alabamians.
- Capitalize on Alabama’s Ports
Other states’ ports are taking in shipments of products bound for Alabama. Providing economic incentives to create more traffic through Alabama’s ports will generate exponentially more tax revenue and jobs.
Protect Children & Families
- Increase Protection of the Most Vulnerable Victims of Abuse
Abuse cases of children under six are often missed because these kids do not attend school yet. Making aggravated child abuse of a child under age six a Class A felony will ensure justice is served to those who abuse the most vulnerable of our population.
- Expand Suicide Awareness Prevention Education Training
Suicide affects youths of every ethnic, economic, and social background. Equipping K-12 teachers with the tools and training to speak with students about suicide prevention will reduce the stigma associated with suicide and the illnesses and emotions that lead to it.
Encourage Education Excellence
- Provide a Pay Raise to Teachers & Education Staff
The Alabama legislature’s fiscal discipline the last several years is paying off as evidenced by FY2017 revenues projections. Giving Alabama teachers and education staff a raise that can be responsibly sustained will help with morale and retention.
- Incentivize Accountability, Specialized Hiring & Retention
Alabama ranks near the bottom for exiting ineffective teachers and retaining effective teachers. Rewarding educators when they succeed and assisting those who need additional help will help improve education as a whole.