Local lawmakers think state made ‘move forward’

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, July 24, 2001

Removing an economic growth-related trigger on teacher payraises is a “move forward” for state educators, said Lincoln Countylawmakers.

“We did something we needed to do. It’s as simple as that,” saidDist. 92 Rep. Dr. Jim Barnett.

The House voted 112-3 and the Senate voted 45-3 to remove astipulation that the state’s economy must grow by 5 percent inorder trigger teacher pay raises for a given year. The trigger wasincluded earlier this year in a five-year, $330 million plan toraise state teachers’ pay to the southeastern average.

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Dist. 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith said she voted for the pay raiseaction after being assured it would not result in a taxincrease.

“I certainly believe teachers need to be compensated, and I’mvery pleased we did what we did,” the senator said.

Hyde-Smith said the trigger removal is a move forward. She hopesthe pay raise plan will address retaining teachers already in theprofession and encourage more to enter the education field.

How the state will pay for raises, though, remains a “goodquestion,” Hyde-Smith said. That question, as well as the reasoningbehind removing the trigger, was the focus oflonger-than-anticipated debate Monday, she said.

“If the trigger was a good idea in February, why wasn’t it agood idea in July,” Hyde-Smith said, citing some of yesterday’sdebate.

Pay raises for state employees and community colleges employeeswere also brought up during debate Monday, Hyde-Smith said, citingtwo community colleges in her Lincoln, Lawrence and Pike countydistrict. With removing the teacher pay trigger the focus Monday,Hyde-Smith indicated there was little resolution regarding otheremployee raises, and how teacher pay raises will be funded remains”too muddy at this point.”

Barnett was hopeful the economy will rebound, or other agenciescould be threatened.

“I think we can handle it,” Barnett said of pay raises. “We’llhave to cut to some other agencies to do it.”

Monday’s special session will cost taxpayers about $48,000.Local lawmakers indicated that was money that could have beensaved.

“It was not needed,” Barnett said of yesterday’s specialsession. “We could have done it when we did redistricting.”

A date for a special session on redistricting has not beenset.

Hyde-Smith agreed with Barnett.

“I did feel strongly this could have waited,” she said.

Gov. Ronnie Musgrove had been critical of lawmakers for notmaking a commitment to educators when they included the 5-percenttrigger. After House and Senate leaders endorsed its removal,Musgrove the issue needed immediate attention and called thespecial session.

The first date set angered some lawmakers because it overlappedwith a national legislative conference. The session then wasrescheduled for Monday.

Barnett said he was afraid the bickering over the specialsession could have some long-lasting effects in the relationshipbetween Musgrove and the legislature. He was hopeful those effectswould be kept to a minimum.

“It’ll work out,” Barnett said.