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Republicans in the Alabama Legislature have rebuffed a request by Republican Gov. Robert Bentley to delay the implementation of private school tax credits for two years
The Alabama Senate this evening voted 19-15 to go along with the House of Representatives and override the governor’s veto of a bill making revisions to the Alabama Accountability Act.
“People don’t want to put their children on hold. They want that opportunity and that choice, and we’ve given it to them today,” Senate President Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said after the vote.
Bentley had argued that delaying the tax credits was the fiscally responsible thing to do.
After the vote, Bentley said it was “unfortunate that the Senate chose to override the veto instead of listening to the people of Alabama.”
Passed earlier this session, the Alabama Accountability Act allows families with children zoned for schools labeled as failing to receive tax credits — originally estimated at $3,500 per year by the bill’s sponsor — to help pay tuition at a private school or a better public school.
Bentley said a two-year delay would give schools time to improve under a policy “flexibility” provision of the law and possibly avoid the failing label. The governor said that would also give the state time to pay down $423 million that must be repaid to the education rainy day fund by 2015.
“It is unfortunate that the Senate chose to override the veto instead of listening to the people of Alabama. My executive amendment was a fiscally responsible approach to improving public schools while also repaying the state’s debt to the Education Rainy Day Account. The Legislature rejecting my amendment is fiscally irresponsible,” Bentley said in a statement.
“The sooner we repay the rainy day account, the sooner we can invest more resources in improving education. My executive amendment would have also given schools time to improve by using the flexibility in the Accountability Act before the tax credits went into effect,” Bentley said.
The vote was the first big public disagreement between the Republican Bentley and Republican legislators.
Most, but not all, Republicans voted against Bentley.
“I’m excited the Senate concurred and that we are now able to give families stuck in failing school opportunities today and not two years from now,” said Rep. Chad Fincher, R-Semmes. Fincher was the sponsor of the original tax credit bill.
Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, was one of three GOP senators that voted with the governor.
“I agree with his logic regarding a moratorium, giving us time to pay back the rainy day fund and also the idea to allow the flexibility component to work its way throughout the school systems across the state. … give them a chance to improve themselves,” Orr said.
During the debate, Democrats took to the Senate microphones to criticize the tax credits as a drain on public education funds.
“We ought to be investing in these schools and making them better,” Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, said.
Bentley in lobbying for the moratorium cautioned that lawmakers should be “listening to the people” and that it could become an election year liability in 2014.
“History will prove if we have made the right decision. I think we have,” Marsh said.
Source: AL.com – by Kim Chandler