By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Gov. Kay Ivey said she wants to give pay raises to state employees and teachers in the next budget year.
In an interview on Thursday with Alabama Daily News, Ivey said her state budget proposals, which are set to be presented to lawmakers next week, will include the pay raises in both the General Fund and Education Trust Fund budgets.
“I’m going to propose a 2% (cost of living) increase for state employees and for teachers,” Ivey said.
Some legislative leaders have signaled they are open to considering the increases.
Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, who chairs the Senate education budget committee, told ADN earlier this week that he and House education budget chairman Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, have discussed targeted pay increases for teachers involved in professional development and to attract more STEM teachers.
“We cannot compete with the private sector when it comes to truly certified STEM qualified individuals, so to attract them, what do you have to do, you have to pay them,” Orr said.
House General Fund budget chairman Steve Clouse also told ADN that state employee pay raises are a possibility in fiscal 2022, which begins in October.
The legislative session begins Tuesday. Because of COVID concerns, Ivey will not be able to give her usual State of the State address in a crowded Capitol chamber. Instead, she’ll deliver the message via live video.
“It’ll just be me and the camera here in the State Capitol, so it will be an unusual State of the State in that regard,” Ivey said. “I’ll use the State of the State to touch on issues and to thank the people of Alabama for responding in such a positive fashion with COVID.”
Ivey said her top priorities for the session are passing the unfinished business from last session: updating Alabama’s economic development incentive laws, preventing Alabamians from being taxed for federal coronavirus relief funds the receive and limiting the liability of businesses and other organizations from COVID-19 related lawsuits.
“Those are going to be the priorities for the first two weeks and we’ll take up other issues as we go along.”
During legislative budget hearings this week, Clouse and other lawmakers told Alabama Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn they wanted more information about the administration’s plans to build three new mega prisons. Ivey and Dunn have said the state will not pay more than $88 million a year for the leases and much of that will come from savings when old and dilapidated prisons are closed, but lawmakers wanted more detailed financial information on the contracts being negotiated in order to plan for any fiscal fallout should costs exceed expectations.
“Right now we’re on the outside looking in, without any information, and I don’t know how to tell anyone how great of a deal this is,” Rep. Arnold Mooney, R-Indian Springs, said.
Ivey told ADN she does not plan to show legislators the lease agreements before she signs them, saying she has been in discussions with legislators for months about the lease plans and that her office is always willing to answer any questions they have.
Press Secretary Gina Maiola said the governor has provided lawmakers as much information on the ongoing negotiations as possible without disclosing sensitive details that could threaten the deal.
“Our office, as we have done throughout the process, is working to be as transparent as possible — even while the negotiations are ongoing,” Maiola said. “Gov. Ivey is trying to thread the needle and be the honest broker to strike the best possible deal for the people of Alabama.”
Another priority for Ivey in the legislative session will be expanding broadband access across the state. She noted that Mississippi-based telecommunications company C Spire on Thursday announced a $1 billion investment over the next three years in Alabama and Mississippi.
The project will provide ultra-fast, all-fiber broadband services to over 200,000 homes and businesses by 2025 in the two states, C Spire said in a written statement.
In Alabama, C Spire has plans to deliver all-fiber gigabit service in over two dozen Alabama markets.
C Spire CEO Hu Meena said the investment is expected to generate at least 250 new direct jobs in Alabama.
Ivey and Business Council of Alabama President and CEO Katie Boyd Britt praised the expansion.
“This decision by C Spire will help the BCA achieve our goals of growing the state’s $228 billion economy, creating jobs, and encouraging investment in Alabama,” Britt said.
Continuing to fund more mental health initiatives is another priority for Ivey, including more money for the Taylor Hardin Secure Medical Facility in Tuscaloosa.
“Lurleen Wallace was a friend and mentor and she started the emphasis on mental health that I would like our administration to continue that engagement,” Ivey said.
Three new mental health crisis centers are scheduled to start operations later this year after Ivey and the legislature appropriated $18 million in this year’s General Fund.
When asked if she has promised legislators that she will call a special session if this regular session is again cut short by COVID-19, Ivey said “we’ll just have to read the tea leaves.”