MONTGOMERY — Shoals-area Democrats were quick Tuesday night to point out what they said were contradictions in Gov. Robert Bentley's State of the State address.
State Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, questioned how the governor could talk about serving the people of Alabama after the state closed 17 veterans services offices this year. He also questioned $750 million in potential state savings while also needing to borrow $437 million to keep the general fund operational for the next three years.
"To me, saying we are a financial model for the nation and then saying we borrowed $437 million is a contradiction," Rep. Greg Burdine, D-Florence said.
Burdine said he was disappointed that Bentley is standing behind his pledge not to raise taxes in order to create revenue for the state.
"Without any new taxes we are going to have a difficult time paying back the money we borrowed," Burdine said. "We just have to have some new revenue, it is that simple."
Democrats, many of whom are pushing a 10 percent raise for educators during the next two years, said the 2.5 percent Bentley is suggesting is not enough.
"(It) is nothing more than a pay reinstatement," Black said. Teacher pay has been cut that much in the last two years. Teachers haven't had a pay raise since 2008, he said.
"I would like to see (a raise structure) where they can count on it without having to come beg for it every year," Black said.
Rep. Lynn Greer, the lone Republican from the Shoals, said if Democrats want higher raises for teachers, "they need to show us where we can get some more money."
Greer, of Rogersville, is carrying one of the bills in the GOP's 2013 agenda. The "Religious Liberty Act" would allow employers to opt out of providing birth control to employees.
Bentley's speech mentioned standing up to the federal government in support of gun owners' rights, the right of the unborn, states' rights and the need for local schools to be able to make their own choices without the federal government interfering.
State Sen. Tammy Irons, D-Florence, gave the minority party's response to Bentley's speech Tuesday night and pointed to Republicans' "misplaced priorities" with available funds. She used recent changes to her Lauderdale and Colbert county district.
"The Alabama Music Hall of Fame, that once provided tourism dollars to our state, has closed its doors," Irons said. "The Florence Department of Forensic Sciences was closed, further delaying justice to victims of crime. Cloverdale School, open since 1897 to educate our children in rural north Alabama, has closed. The Veterans Affairs office in Colbert County, along with 16 other offices across the state, was closed."
Senate Democrats will unveil their official agenda next week, but Irons also used her speech to talk about one priority: expanding Medicaid. She cited a University of Alabama Birmingham study that said the expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act would provide insurance to hundreds of thousands of Alabamians and create $20 billion in new economic activity. Bentley has said he won't expand Medicaid under its current structure because it would be too costly for the state in the long term.
"If a company expansion would generate $20 billion dollars in new economic activity in Alabama, we would and should do everything within our power to assist that company," Irons said. "We cannot afford to say ‘no' to $20 billion being injected into Alabama's economy, which creates and helps save jobs."
Mary Sell is the Montgomery Bureau chief for the TimesDaily. She can be reached at email@example.com.