Committee takes look at personnel

By Staff
Bob Ingram, Alabama Scene
MONTGOMERY–When you figure that about 75 percent of the General Fund budget goes for personnel costs–salaries, health insurance, retirement benefits–it should be obvious that to make a massive cut in expenditures will surely impact on state employees.
That is what Gov. Bob Riley's Commission on Efficiency, Consolidiation and Funding has recommended in its final report.
The 37-member commission submitted its suggestions to Riley last week, and predictably it provoked an anguished howl from the Alabama State Employees Association. Mac McArthur, head man of ASEA, called the recommendations "callous." McArthur didn't suggest where the cuts should come from, but he said they shouldn't come from state employees.
The commission expressed great concern about the spiralling cost of health insurance for employees and recommended they be asked to pay more for their coverage.
It also took a dim view of the number of state holidays. Presently the state observes 13 holidays but in reality the workers historically get an extra day off at Thanksgiving and Christmas. The Commission recommended there be only 10 holidays.
The savings from this would be considerable, especially because many workers such as prison guards, mental health hospital staffs and law enforcement officers have to work on holidays and are paid overtime.
How far will these cost-cutting proposals go in the Legislature? Probably not very far. The legislature could not possibly demand more of state employees without making the same demand of teachers…and rest assured the almighty AEA…which has vastly more clout in the legislature than the ASEA…isn't likely to let that happen.
In 2000 Gov. Don Siegelman came up with the idea of raising the salary of teachers to the national average over a period of years. Nobody else in Alabama is paid the national average, but Siegelman felt the teachers were deserving.
A bill was passed…a complicated bill…which provided that in any year where it is projected that school tax collections will increase by 3.5 percent then some 41 percent of the increase must be used to raise the salary of teachers.
Nobody has thought much about the law because tax collections didn't come close to that 3.5 percent threshhold. But now comes news that school tax collections may indeed increase by as much as 6.5 to 7 percent this year. If that happens almost half of that increase over 3.5 percent would have to be used to boost teachers pay.
There is not enough money in the school budgets to buy nearly enough text books, there is a critical shortage of revenue for transportation, professonal development, and a myriad of other desperately needed programs. Yet the law says teachers may get a raise.
Hopefully, Dr. Paul Hubbert of the AEA will state publicly that this mandated pay raise should not be granted at this time.
First off, they need to remember the county they are looking at. Every yardstick puts Shelby near the top in what might be called the "elite" list of Alabama counties. It is not only the fastest growing county in the state but it has one of the highest per capita incomes of any county, more residents with college degrees…that sort of thing.
All that being so, you might think the voters there would appreciate quality schools and be willing to pay for them. Not hardly.
A proposed 9-mill increase in property taxes in Shelby County was rejected by a crushing 73% to 27 percent margin. If you want numbers the actual vote was 20,192 against, a pitiful 7,522 for. That's scary.
Even the fact that the school population in Shelby is projected to increase from 22,750 presently to more than 36,000 in the next decade had no effect on the voters.
It was a crushing defeat….and a loud and clear message about how voters feel about higher taxes.

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