Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Butting heads on Goat Hill

The 2006 round of Alabama's annual education budget battle, pitting Alabama Education Association executive secretary Paul Hubbert against anyone who dares to oppose anything he wants, already is shaping up on Goat Hill.

With the state looking at a prospective $300 million surplus in the Education Trust Fund, and with an election year looming prominently, Gov. Bob Riley has proposed returning the surplus to taxpayers, as his political hero Ronald Reagan did as governor of California in the late 1960s.

But Hubbert, who runs the show in Montgomery, desires no such thing. He plans to push for a 5 percent pay hike for education employees in an effort to get their salaries back in line with cost-of-living increases over the last decade. The Associated Press reports that Hubbert also concurred with the views of state Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, who wants the Legislature to use the surplus to replenish the state's education rainy day fund and to reinstate funding cuts incurred during Alabama's most recent round of proration a few years ago.

Regarding a teacher pay raise, Hubbert and Riley may not be all that far apart. Both men want the state to offer one, so if they disagree at all on that issue, it will be only over the amount. The key battleground will be the question of whether to return some or all of the surplus, and based on recent history, it'd be safe to bet that Hubbert will end up with most of what he wants.

Despite the likelihood that he won't get his way when it comes to returning the ETF surplus, and setting aside the probability that he honestly believes a rebate is the right thing to do with the money, Riley's position is wise from an electoral standpoint. The move allows him to wage a public battle for tax cuts and against the AEA and legislative Democrats, which surely will play well with the GOP base. It also helps him to remind a strongly anti-tax electorate that he was one of the nation's most anti-tax congressmen and to fend off attacks on his failed $1.3 billion tax plan in 2003.

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