Exposing the myths behind the AEA's opposition to double dipping
Gov. Bob Riley, Guest Editorial
When an official of the Alabama Education Association recently referred to the state's postsecondary chancellor as "fuhrer," it rightfully set off a firestorm of outrage and indignation. What hasn't gotten as much attention, but is just as outrageous, are the deceptions and outright falsehoods being told by the leaders of the AEA about the chancellor's proposals to end double dipping in the two-year college system.
With the State Board of Education voting on these proposals this Thursday, it's time to expose some of the AEA's untrue claims and provide the facts about what these proposals will and will not do.
Myth: These proposals will hurt educators.
FACT: These proposals protect education employees and guarantee fair and equal treatment in a politically neutral workplace. Opponents of the proposals aren't trying to protect teachers. They're trying to protect double dipping politicians who want to keep getting paid for two state jobs, one as elected officials and one as two-year college employees. The proposals recommended by Chancellor Byrne will guarantee equal opportunity for jobs and promotions based on performance, not politics. No more "special" work schedules, lighter work loads, extra leave or unusual consideration for jobs or promotions for some just because they happen to be politicians. Shouldn't AEA be supporting proposals that protect education employees rather than defending double dipping politicians?
Myth: These proposals will deny educators' rights to run for and serve in the Legislature and other elected offices such as county commission and city council.
FACT: These proposals expressly protect the right of education employees to run for any office. The proposals simply say that if elected to a state office, such as the Legislature, an employee must choose between the elected state position and state employment to avoid potential conflicts of interest. Employees wishing to serve in local elected offices, such as city council, may do so freely on the same terms as all other employees who have second jobs or participate in outside activities – by requesting leave or performing duties on personal time before or after work, as already required by existing state law.
Myth: If these proposals pass, education employees will never get another pay raise and they will lose their retirement benefits.
FACT: These proposals have absolutely nothing to do with pay raises, health insurance or retirement benefits. They simply require members of the Legislature who also work at a two-year college (currently 13 legislators out of 140) to choose between their two taxpayer-supported jobs: their job in the Legislature, which now pays nearly $50,000, or their job at a two-year college. Does the AEA really expect people to believe that the only reason teachers have gotten a 21 percent increase in pay during the past four years is because of these 13 legislators? Pay raises for teachers typically pass with unanimous support in the Legislature.
Myth: These proposals are unconstitutional.
FACT: Proposals like the ones recommended by Chancellor Byrne have been ruled constitutional in courts all across the United States. That's because they protect public employees and promote good government. In fact, the courts have upheld similar laws or policies in several states, including our Southern neighbors Georgia, Florida, Mississippi and Arkansas, as well as the federal government, which has maintained a wall between public employment and elected office since the adoption of the Hatch Act in 1939.
Myth: These proposals discriminate against minorities and women.
FACT: These proposals apply neutrally to all employees in the two-year college system, regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, creed, sex, marital status, familial status, age, handicap or political affiliation. Discrimination has no place in the Alabama College System and will not be tolerated.
Myth: These proposals prohibit employees from volunteering for Boy Scouts, disaster relief and other community service activities.
FACT: These proposals do not prohibit volunteer or community service, period.
Myth: These policies will require legislators to choose between holding office and "feeding their families," which Dr. Hubbert was quoted as saying.
FACT: This is an insult to hardworking Alabamians everywhere. Thanks to the pay raise the Legislature recently gave itself, legislators now make nearly $50,000 every year for the three months of the legislative session. That's more than the median household income in Alabama for an entire year of work.
Myth: These proposals are unfair because they apply only to two-year college system employees.
FACT: I introduced legislation to apply these proposals to all state employees, including those who work in the four-year system. But Dr. Hubbert of the AEA went to the Legislature and personally spoke out against that legislation. I have said repeatedly that I will pursue similar bans on double dipping at all levels – in every state agency, K-12 schools, two-year colleges and four-year universities.
The propaganda spread by AEA has been designed to scare educators and members of the State Board of Education. The AEA's leaders for years have hid behind the charade that what they do is to help "the children." But their threats, their scorching rhetoric and the lies they have told about Chancellor Byrne's reforms reveal their true interests: protecting their own power at any cost.
On Thursday, our State Board of Education has an opportunity to bring Alabama up to a higher standard of accountability. These aren't radical proposals. If adopted, we would simply be following what other Southern states and the federal government already require. This is finally our chance to reform a system that we've all witnessed has great potential for abuse. Alabama's two-year college employees, our teachers, our students and certainly our taxpayers deserve an end to the corruption in the two-year college system. Now is the time.
Bob Riley is Governor of Alabama. He can be contacted by email at www.governor.alabama.gov/.