Legislature faces first budget-writing bill

Published 10:13pm Monday, March 7, 2011

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House and Senate are ready to begin voting Tuesday on bills that are part of the agenda of Republicans who have taken control of the Alabama House and Senate for the first time since Reconstruction.

Bills at the top of the list in the House and Senate on Tuesday, the first day either chamber can vote on legislation, include measures that have been offered by Republican lawmakers in past years but died in the then-Democratic controlled Legislature.

The first bill up in the House Tuesday is a measure pushed for the past three years by Republican Rep. Greg Canfield of Vestavia Hills that would base Alabama’s education budget on how much the state has received in tax revenue over the past 15 years instead of relying on the projections of state and legislative budget experts.

“It will make the budget process more predictable and eliminate the likelihood of problems,” Canfield said Monday. He said he believes his bill would greatly reduce the possibility that the budget would later have to be cut in a process known as proration.

At the top of the Senate work schedule Tuesday is a measure to eliminate the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP), which has rewarded some teachers and state employees for putting off retirement.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh of Anniston, sponsor of the bill, says the state can no longer afford the DROP program and eliminating it would make money available for other state services. He said the bill would not affect any teachers or state employees who are currently on the DROP program.

“Either we repeal this luxury benefit plan and cut costs, or we jeopardize people’s jobs and play roulette with the solvency of Alabama’s retirement system,” Marsh said.

House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, said Republicans have the votes in the House to pass their bills, but that Democrats would not go quietly in debate. He defended DROP, saying it has accomplished its purpose of encouraging qualified teachers and other state employees from retiring early to take jobs in neighboring states.

“It has helped us keep qualified teachers from going across the state line to Georgia,” Ford said. He said Democratic lawmakers would offer a substitute plan that would cost less money but would still reward older workers who put off retirement.

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