University pay increase not in governor's budget proposal
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Feb 06, 2013 | 3892 views |  0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Jacksonville State University campus, seen from the air. (Anniston Star file photo)
The Jacksonville State University campus, seen from the air. (Anniston Star file photo)
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MONTGOMERY — When Gov. Robert Bentley promised to push for a 2.5 percent pay raise for the state's teachers, Bill Meehan hoped college professors were included, too.

But now that the governor's proposed budget has been made public, Meehan, the president of Jacksonville State University, says a raise for college professors clearly isn't part of the plan.

"It would take more than $2 million to give 2.5 percent to our faculty and staff," Meehan said. "There's just not enough money there."

JSU would get $36 million in state money under the budget Bentley has proposed for the 2014 fiscal year. That's an increase of $686,000, or about 2 percent.

Most other colleges got similar increases in the governor's budget. The Education Trust Fund budget, which pays for schools, would grow by $277 million to $5.8 billion under the governor's plan, according to numbers released Wednesday by state Finance Director Marquita Davis.

Most non-education functions of government — including the once-growing Medicaid program — would get no more than last year. Bentley's proposal would grow the General Fund, which funds most state agencies, slightly to about $1.74 billion. The Education Trust Fund budget would grow by $277 million to $5.8 billion under the governor's plan.

The education budget would include a 2.5 percent pay raise for K-12 teachers and other education employees, which Davis said would cost about $83 million. Davis said the pay raise would replace the money teachers lost two years ago, when legislators voted to require education employees to pay an additional 2.5 percent of their pay toward their retirement.

"It does make up for what has been taken from them," Davis said. Employees in non-education state agencies would get no raise under the governor's plan.

The budget also includes a proposed increase of $12.5 million to the state's pre-kindergarten program, which currently gets $19 million per year. That $12.5 million figure echoes a request from pre-K advocates, who last year urged lawmakers to expand the program by $125 million over a 10-year period, eventually providing pre-K to all Alabama 4-year-olds.

Davis said she knew of no plan for future $12.5 million increases.

"We're going to give them $12.5 million this year, and we can talk about next year," she said.

Bentley's proposals level-funded most state agencies — including Medicaid, the joint state-federal program that provides health care for people whose income is below the poverty level. The state's cost for the program has grown considerably in recent years. counting the proceeds from a voter-approved raid on the Alabama Trust Fund, the program will get $615 million in 2014, state officials say. Bentley's budget gives the program the same amount.

State Health Officer Don Williamson had requested $675 million.

"This is going to be a very, very painful process," Williamson said.

He said the Medicaid Agency would likely handle the budget situation by searching for new sources of federal revenue that haven't been tapped yet. He also said the state might have to reduce its reimbursements to Medicaid providers.

The state's prison system is among the agencies that got an increase in the governor's proposal. The budget for the Department of Corrections will grow from $372 million to $393 million, under the proposal. Davis said the money would go toward inmate health care, increased insurance payments and construction projects and security cameras at Tutwiler Prison for Women.

The prison system has long held more prisoners than it was built for, and lawmakers have openly worried about the potential for a lawsuit that could lead to a court mandate to build more prisons or release inmates. Allegations of sexual abuse of inmates at Tutwiler — where an investigation found two former inmates were impregnated by prison employees — has heightened the tension.

Even in the education budget, most agencies got far less in the governor's budget than they requested. That's typical of the budget process. Jacksonville State asked for $44 million, and would get $8 million less in Bentley's plan.

Meehan said JSU would likely lobby for money to raise university pay by 2.5 percent.

"My point to the Legislature is that education also means higher education," he said.

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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