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Election year means raises

By Staff
Bob Ingram, Alabama Scene
MONTGOMERY—It is as predictable as the sunrise—when an election year rolls around the teacher and state employee unions begin clamoring for a pay raise.
They ain't dumb. They know that no legislator who aspires to be re-elected would dare offend these two powerful groups by opposing a raise on the eve of an election.
It matters not the condition of the state treasury, although this year there is an unexpectedly large amount of money in the Education Trust Fund just waiting to be grabbed.
That being so Dr. Paul Hubbert of the muscular Alabama Education and Mac McArthur of the less muscular State Employees Association joined hands a few days ago asking for pay raises for their union members.
Both groups were given a 6 percent raise on Oct. 1, the first since 2002. Hubbert and McArthur say raises for their members have not kept pace with the consumer price index.
Hubbert said the AEA would be looking for an across-the-board 5 percent raise for teachers. McArthur said his group has not yet determined the amount of the raise they will seek.
These demands for pay raises create a problem for Gov. Bob Riley who has said if there is indeed a $300 million surplus in education funds he would like to give some of it back to the taxpayers either in the form of a tax cut or a rebate. It could be that Riley is playing a little election-year politics himself.
The chances of a Democrat-controlled Legislature giving a Republican governor the power to give tax money back to the taxpayers is slim and none, and slim hasn't been seen for a long time.
A federal grand jury in Montgomery which has been meeting for 18 months convened for the final time last week and its final act was to return even more indictments against Siegelman and former HealthSouth chairman Richard Scrushy. These indictments came on the heels of 30 indictments returned against the two in October.
The latest charges accuse Scrushy of bribing one and possibly two members of the state's Certificate of Need Board (CON) in an effort to get them to vote in a manner beneficial to HealthSouth.
Specifically, Scrushy allegedly made arrangements for $3,000 to be paid to one CON member who in turn voted for a matter involving HealthSouth. Later, a CON member allegedly was paid $8,000 to approve a PET scanner for Health South. It was not made clear if it was the same board member allegedly bribed both times.
The CON board is empowered to approve hospital expansions as well as the type of services they offer.
The indictment further charges that Scrushy made "two disguised and concealed payments" of $250,000 to Siegelman in return for the governor's promise to appoint Scrushy and another HealthSouth exec to the CON board.
Siegelman's reaction to the indictments was almost identical to what he has said in the past: "They are going to pull every trick in the book to manipulate the 2006 election."
These latest indictments makes it unlikely that the charges against Siegelman can be finally adjudicated in court before the June primary elections.
The plan was given impetus last week when leaders of the national Democratic Party voted to allow earlier primaries in four states. Two would have caucuses, two would have primary elections.
Jim Spearman, executive director of the Alabama Democratic Party, said that Alabama has a good shot at being picked for one of the primaries.
Presently Alabama does not have its presidential primary until June…months after the widely-covered Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire primary.
In fact most often the Democratic nomination has already been locked up before this state elects its delegates. The cost of a primary would be about $1 million but State Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, said it would be money well spent.
"We are sitting back being concerned about a million dollars and we're letting the liberal Northeast establishment choose our candidate," Barron said.