I arrived in Montgomery a little after 9:30 this morning. I was able to call into the Dale Jackson show on the way down to discuss a flurry of phone calls I received yesterday concerning the Forever Wild Program. Of note – I safely pulled over at the top of an exit ramp for this phone call…I didn’t want to be one of those distracted drivers I often complain about.
As mentioned, the flurry of calls I received were in opposition to the Forever Wild Program…I think. You see, the calls were all listed from a “Private Number” (note – I make it a practice that any call originating from an unlisted or private number automatically gets sent to voice mail for screening). I seldom receive calls from a private number so I was very surprised when I started receiving them back-to-back…I knew something was up. Sure enough, I was getting random messages from random people asking me to “not vote for buying that property…we need the money in the classroom”. As it turns out this was a lobbying effort by an organization I’ve yet to identify who, after convincing people to participate, automatically connected them to my cell phone allowing them to leave me a brief message. Trouble was most of the callers were not really sure what they were for or against. Later in the day I actually answered a couple of the calls rather than rolling them to voice mail – much to the caller’s surprise. I was able to confirm what was going on and even asked two of the callers to pull up the number that had called them. That number was also blocked, reinforcing my point. In short, this effort completely backfired on whatever organization was behind it.
My hope is that anyone that feels strongly enough about an issue, and wants to contact me on it, will do so through the phone number and/or email listed on the Contact Bill page of this website. You certainly don’t need a lobbying/special interest group to initiate the contact for you.
I had several meetings after arriving in Montgomery. One of which was concerning a Brewery Modernization Act. This bill will allow for economic growth through small businesses in the Brew Pub arena. I’ll post a link to this bill once it has been entered into the system.
Our legislative calendar listed several bills for debate today. Unfortunately we were only able to focus on one bill, Senate Bill 72, relating to the Deferred Retirement Option Plan, or DROP Program. Since last week I’ve communicated via email and phone calls with several people concerning the program. While I’ve personalized each response, the basis of my position follows:
I simply cannot support continuing the DROP program in its current state. I will however support moving the closing date to Oct of this year (coinciding with the FY Calendar) rather than an arbitrary date.
From what I'm told and have researched, the DROP program was created approximately 10 years ago and designed as an incentive for a teacher with a unique skill set, nearing retirement to stay on 3 to 5 years longer so that the school system could hire, train or groom a replacement. The teacher would then retire when the new teacher was in place. Additionally the DROP program targeted teachers that were paid in the $50K - $75K range.
The DROP program was well intended and designed to keep good teachers in Alabama. But the program has been severely abused; following are the problems with DROP today. The people allowed to participate were expanded to include other state employees; participants include those that make $200 - 300K or more. Those allowed to participate did not retire after completing the 3 to 5 years, rather stayed in the system. And lastly, the program guarantees a minimum of 3% up to 4% rate of return. In short, a program of this type is unheard of in the private sector, has been abused, and will become insolvent in 12 – 15 years leaving the tax payers with an unfunded pension liability. It is my duty to prevent that. Concerns and disappointment with the program closing should be directed at the leadership who allowed a well intended program to be abused to the degree that the current legislators only option, unfortunately, is to close it so as to prevent unfunded pension liabilities from being placed on our children.
A floor amendment was offered during debate to move the closing date to Oct of this year - in line with the annual budgets. This amendment put everyone in a tight spot as estimates showed it will cost an additional $10M this year alone to allow the program to remain open; hard to find $10M in this year’s lean budgets. I supported the amendment, along with a handful of others Senators, as I saw this as the fairest way to establish a closing date. The amendment was defeated in a 19 – 16 vote. The bill was then passed in a 23 – 12 vote. The bill working its way through the House has a different closing date than the Senate version. My prediction is that this will end up in a conference committee hearing to reconcile the two bills (closing dates). In the end, the DROP program will be closed, it is just a matter of what date it will become effective.
We adjourned a little after 5 PM from the Senate Chamber and after dinner with several of my colleagues, I spent the remainder of the evening reading over five bills that will come before the Education Committee Meeting I will be attending in the morning. One bill, SB51 moves to temporarily reduce the number of school days for the next two school years as a cost savings measure for the state.
We will go back into session at 10:00 in the morning for a rare Wednesday Senate session. Wednesday’s are normally reserved for committee meetings only. We will take up several bills that were passed from the House today, most notably HB 57, the long awaited rolling budget reserve act that will begin to refine the way our state’s budgets are developed.
On other news, on Monday I was appointed as one of seven Senators to the Legislative Joint Transportation Committee by Lt Gov Ivey. Each of the state's seven congressional districts is represented on the committee. I’m honored to accept this additional appointment and realize the importance of our mission. The committee reviews all legislation regarding the Department of Transportation and issues affecting highways in Alabama. Additionally, the committee reviews state Transportation Department budgets for highway construction, maintenance and operation.