By PHILLIP RAWLS
MONTGOMERY, Ala. - The chairmen of the Legislature's two education budget committees said Tuesday they are committed to paying off the state's debt to its Rainy Day Fund on time, which could prevent a teacher pay raise starting in one year.
Senate Chairman Trip Pittman, R-Montrose, and House Chairman Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, said at a news conference they are making it a priority to pay off the debt by the fiscal 2015 deadline set out in state law.
Pittman said that payment, plus other obligations, including increased health insurance costs for educators and payments for Alabama's prepaid college tuition plan, will likely eat up all extra revenue in the fiscal 2015 budget and leave nothing for a cost-of-living raise for school employees when fiscal 2015 starts Oct. 1, 2014.
Poole said it's too early to rule anything out, but paying the debt will be the priority when the Legislature convenes in January to start work on the fiscal 2015 budget.
The two budget chairman held their news conference on the first day of fiscal 2014. The education budget for this new year includes a 2 percent cost-of-living raise for education employees.
State officials borrowed $437 million from the state Rainy Day Fund in 2009 to prevent deep cuts in school spending during the recession. They paid back $14 million in 2012 and $260 million at the close of fiscal 2013 on Monday. Pittman said they expect to repay $100 million in the current budget year, which will leave $63 million for 2015.
Pittman and Poole said the repayments are the result of tighter budgeting and improvements in the economy. They noted that since Republicans gained control of the Legislature in 2010, none of the education budgets they have passed have been in the red. But the four previous budgets passed by the Democrat-controlled Legislature had appropriations exceeding tax collections, which resulted in borrowing from the Rainy Day Fund and across-the-board spending cuts to make them balance.