Budget cuts are sleight of hand

Published 10:50 pm Tuesday, June 14, 2011

This legislative session was framed by promises encased in the Republicans’ “Handshake With Alabama.”  However, it became a sleight of hand to shake down Alabama.

The 2011 Regular Legislative Session rained assaults from low lurking political clouds.  First, teachers’ salaries were cut.  However, they didn’t just say, “Teachers, we are cutting your salaries.”  That would be too transparent.  Rather, they said, “Teachers, we are cutting the number of school days to save money.”  The veil was accountability –  balancing the education budget.  However, the reality was a sleight of hand attacking public education.

Then they reduced the number of teacher funded units for public education.  Eleven hundred twenty five teachers lost their jobs and our children lost 1,125 teachers to mentor them

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They also increased class size under the guise of accountability and balancing the budget.

Then they cut teacher’s pay again.  They did this by raising the amount teachers and other education employees have to pay for retirement.  They also increased teacher health care costs by underfunding the health insurance program by $40 million.  This action increases costs to teachers for health care while benefits are being reduced.  Another attack on public education.

Then they tried to establish partisan political control over the teacher retirement system.

Let me share with you why these acts were not based upon balancing the budget.  At the same time they were cutting the pay of teachers and other education employees, they transferred a $30 million health insurance program to the education budget from the general fund budget. While they were reducing the number of teachers and cutting teachers’ pay, they tried by hook and crook to establish a liability insurance program for education employees that would costs millions of dollars. Then they gave businesses $150 million in tax breaks that further reduced education funds.  They tried to give another $150 million for a total of $300 million.  They ran out of time and fell short in the face of our determined efforts.

If revenue was really the issue, they could have easily raised $200 million by closing corporate loop holes that allow rich out of state corporations not to pay state income tax like Alabama citizens and Alabama corporations.  Instead, they assaulted the working families of Alabama, making them pay more while receiving less pay.

Alabama had laboriously lifted itself from 49th in education quality to 25th in the nation.  We were finally on our way to excellence in public education.  Now, they shortened the school year, put more children in each class, cut teacher pay, and increased the cost of benefits.  This is not accountability but assaults.  This is not transparency but sleight of hand.  This is not a gain but a loss that we all shall pay a high price for a long time.