MONTGOMERY — The board that controls the Alabama Teachers’ Retirement System is joining the state education union’s efforts to obtain a cost-of-living increase for teachers and retirees in 2014 that is “the maximum that available funds would allow.”
At a Teachers Retirement System Board of Control meeting Tuesday, board member Henry Mabry, also executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association, said educators deserve raises because they haven’t had one since 2008 and are required to pay more for their retirement contributions, which Mabry said equals a pay cut.
The board, which includes state Treasurer Young Boozer and state Superintendent Tommy Bice, unanimously supported Mabry’s resolution, which states, “the board supports the suspension or repeal of any other legislation that would hinder that effort.”
After the meeting, Mabry said he’s seeking a 10 percent cost-of-living increase for teachers and retirees.
“We’re pretty much just asking for our folks to be made whole,” he said.
Any pay raise teachers or other state employees receive for 2014 will have to be approved by lawmakers in the 2013 legislative session, which begins in February.
Mabry said he doesn’t have a sponsor for an AEA-backed pay increase bill, but he’s talked to lawmakers who are receptive to the idea. He wouldn’t say who.
State Rep. and Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, has already pre-filed a bill that would give teachers and education support personnel and other state employees and retirees a 10 percent cost-of-living increase over two years — 2014 and 2015.
The 10 percent increase for educators represents about $374 million. The raise for state employees is about $135 million.
Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, said he and other Democrats will support raises — as much as the state can afford.
“It is needed, deserved and long overdue,” he said. As far as the actual amount, Black said the numbers will have to be studied. “You have to look at what the state can afford and what would be adequate.”
State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, chair of the Senate committee that oversees the state’s general fund, said a raise in 2014 may be easier to swing for educators. Teachers’ raises would come from the Education Trust Fund, while state employees’ raises would come from the general fund and their agencies.
“I think (a pay increase) is certainly more possible for education employees than it is state employees,” Orr said. “And that’s unfortunate since they’ve not received a pay raise since 2008. You’d like both groups to receive increases.”
Early indications show there likely will be enough revenue in the 2014 education fund for a raise, but Orr said 10 percent over two years would be difficult. Meanwhile, the general fund budget has a growing list of demands in 2014.
Picking up DROP?
The board also approved a resolution from Mabry to seek a “revenue neutral” way to reinstate teachers in the Deferred Retirement Option Plan.
Known as DROP, for about a decade it financially rewarded older state employees who stayed in the system. Lawmakers eliminated it in 2011 and Gov. Robert Bentley said over the summer that not having the program has saved the state nearly $60 million.
Mabry said eliminating the program was “a punitive measure against employees.”
David Bronner, chief executive officer for the Retirement Systems of Alabama, said he didn’t know how to make a program like DROP work without costing money.
“We have to come up with that,” Mabry said. The AEA will pursue legislation to do so in 2013.
Orr said he’s open to the idea, but skeptical.
“The original DROP program was billed as an almost revenue-neutral proposition, and it certainly didn’t turn out that way,” Orr said.