When it was first announced that the state was actually going to see a surplus this year (thanks to a tax increase that the governor still wants to call a tax cut), John Bel Edwards almost immediately called for a $1,200 pay raise for teachers.
Note, that he isn’t calling for a $1,200 stipend for them. It is a pay increase, meaning this is going to be something that is permanently budgeted in year after year. Again, this proposal stems from a surplus in the state’s revenue.
It is not money we have always had. It is money that exists because of a fictional budget crisis and a tax increase. One tax was set to expire at the end of the year, and the legislature renewed a portion of it. You have no way to guarantee that the surplus will exist against next year, but you are programming a teacher pay raise as though that money will exist forever.
So, when I hear that there is virtually no opposition to the pay raise from Republicans in the legislature, I get a little irritated, because for all their talk about fiscal responsibility in opposition to a tax-and-spend governor, in the end there is almost always a surrender.
I should note, by the way, that I am a public education teacher.
I would love a $1,200 pay raise, and I am not arguing against it. However, this is a promise with no financial backing to it. Because we live under a state constitution that protects virtually all money save for education (particularly higher education) and healthcare, it’s hard to guarantee that some sort of cut to education wouldn’t come in some in the future when times get tough again.
Therefore, I want to expect Republican lawmakers to fight for cuts that permanently make room for this raise (frankly I want them to cut far more than just the $150 million or whatever it would take). We have lived high on the federal hog and have let our budget grow out of control because of it. The state simply cannot afford to keep increasing spending on these things without cutting less important spending.
Georgia’s Republican governor aims to increase teacher pay by $3,000. We could do that here as easily as we could do $1,200, and stay competitive with other southern states, but it starts with us making room for it.
Edwards is simply using the surplus as it is to create a payoff to teachers unions to make sure they stick with him in 2019 because he spent the first three years doing nothing for them. Unions were among his biggest backers, and if he doesn’t pay them back now then they will absolutely look for someone who will.
But that payoff will become a permanent part of the budget while there is no guarantee the money that existed to get it in there will continue to exist. The ironic part is that it’s Edwards himself to is trying to ensure that money isn’t there in the future. He is running businesses and even entire industries out of the state, all but ensuring that there will be another budget crisis that will “require” another tax to fund the government.
“Otherwise,” they’ll say, “our children’s education will suffer!”