Alabama Gov. Bentley asks 4 percent raise for state workers

Published 10:16 pm Tuesday, February 7, 2017

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley used the first day of the legislative session to propose a 4-percent pay raise for state employees, but some skeptical lawmakers immediately questioned whether the state could afford it.

Finance Director Clinton Carter announced the proposed raise during budget presentations Tuesday. The raise would cost the state general fund a projected $19 million.

Lawmakers returned to Montgomery on Tuesday to start the 2017 legislative session. Major issues before legislators this year also include Bentley’s $800 million prison construction proposal and court-ordered redistricting.

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Mac McArthur, director of the Alabama State Employees Association, praised the proposed pay raise.

He said state employees haven’t had a cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, since back in 2008.

“For eight years, four months and so many days they have gone without a COLA,” he said. That comes as the state workforce has shrunk, McArthur said. “They are having to do more for less.”

The general fund budget, which has been troubled by shortfalls in past years, is getting a one-time boost of $105 million from the state’s share of oil spill settlement funds. The money will be directed toward the Medicaid program.

Rep. Steve Clouse, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said he did not think the state had the funds to maintain the raise in future years and fully fund employees’ insurance.

“We have a cushion this year because of the $105 million going to Medicaid even though that’s not all they need. If we didn’t have that 105, we’d be in a crisis right now,” Clouse, R-Ozark, said. “I’d think it’s more important to them to get their health insurance taken care of.”

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said he didn’t think a raise of that size was feasible, but said it’s too soon to talk about “a set number.”

“I think we have to be careful. We’d all love to do something for state employees, but what can we really afford?” Marsh said.

Legislators last year approved a 4 percent pay raise for teachers and school employees making less than $75,000 a year. School employees making more than that got a 2 percent raise.