MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - A little less than a week from now our Alabama legislative body will convene for the start of the 2016 legislative session. As always, there is much to accomplish this year. Let's take a quick look back at what was on the agenda last year. You shouldn't be surprised to learn that almost all of those 2015 priorities will be repeated again this year.
So here's a quick refresher. A year ago, as the session was about to begin, our state was staring at a General Fund budget with a deficit in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The governor proposed a number of tax increases. Overcrowded Alabama prisons, charter schools, teachers pay, gambling and the lottery were items and issues before our state leaders this time last year.
Fast forward to today.
Our 2016 General Fund budget is balanced (which it has to be by law), but continues to woefully under-fund all-important programs. Medicaid will again be a hotly debated topic this session and as recently as this month, the Alabama Medicaid Agency served notice that it needs $157 million more than what is currently budgeted in order to not cut services.
Given the hype on the $1.5 billion dollar Powerball jackpot, the lottery discussion is hotter than ever. This is a topic that many Alabamians already voted positively for when they drove hours to Georgia to buy tickets earlier this month.
Lastly and one of the most important is compensation for our teachers. Teachers pay in Alabama, which has increased by only 2% in the last 8 years, will be one to watch. I strongly encourage our lawmakers to support State Superintendent Tommy Bice's plan to increase wages for teachers by 5% starting in 2017. This investment in great teachers will result in a great return for our schools, students and our state's future.
To the Legislature, we'll be watching. There is a lot riding on your work over the next few months. Have the courage to come to meaningful resolutions and let's move this great state forward in 2016.