— MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Gov. Robert Bentley has set a goal of raising teachers' pay by close to 10 percent over three years.
Bentley has already recommended that the Legislature approve a 2.5 percent cost-of-living raise for the 2013-2014 school year. He said he intends to propose a similar amount for the 2014-2015 school year and another raise for 2015-2016.
"My goal is to have close to a 10 percent pay raise by the end of three years. I think it is reasonable," he said in a speech Tuesday to retired teachers in Montgomery.
Bentley said he believes the goal is achievable because Alabama's economy is recovering from the recession and businesses are creating new jobs.
"I truly believe we are right now on the verge of seeing our state create more jobs than we have created in decades," he said.
House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, and House budget committee Chairman Jay Love, R-Montgomery, said the governor had never mentioned the goal to them.
"That's a great goal," Hubbard said. But, he said, "it's going to be hard to do the 2.5 percent" for the first year.
He said Alabama's tax revenue for education will be smaller than legislators originally anticipated because of rising retirement costs and an increase in federal payroll taxes that started in January.
Alabama gives a state income tax deduction for federal taxes paid, and the federal increase will result in Alabama collecting $60 million less, he said. That affects public schools because income taxes are the largest source of revenue for education.
Hubbard said legislators also want to make sure that any raise is sustainable in future years and won't result in midyear cutbacks in education spending.
The pay raise issue will be among the first issues addressed by legislators when they return from spring break. Love's Ways and Means-Education Committee is scheduled to discuss the education budget on Tuesday and possibly vote on it Wednesday.
Love isn't saying what he will recommend ahead of Tuesday's meeting, but he said he will encourage his committee to approve a fiscally conservative budget.
If educators get a raise, it would be the first increase of Bentley's term and the first since they got 7 percent for the 2007-2008 school year.
Henry Mabry, the executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association, said the teachers' organization would like to see Bentley achieve his goal, but it doesn't appear financially possible.
The reason, he said, is the Legislature has approved new tax credits for parents who enroll their children in private school rather than a public school rated as failing. The tax credits will come from money now going to public education.
Mabry said the tax credits could curtail school funding by $50 million to $365 million a year, depending on how many families use them.
"With full implementation of this thing, there is no way to do these raises," he said.
AEA is challenging the tax credits in court.
Bentley has not proposed a raise for state employees for the new fiscal year because he said tax revenue for the state General Fund budget is still lagging from the recession. Hubbard said state employees deserve a raise, but he agrees with the governor that it's not possible.