Looking toward reelection in November, Gov. Kay Ivey proposed 4% raises for all state employees and teachers Tuesday night.
Ivey delivered her annual State of the State address from the State Capitol in Montgomery, calling for action from the state legislature in its 2022 session which began Tuesday. The legislature is tasked with spending the state’s $1.5 billion in American Rescue Plan funds, which Ivey said should be “an early priority.”
In her 30-minute speech, Ivey urged the legislature to put the money toward improving broadband connectivity, water and sewer infrastructure and investing in hospitals and healthcare workers.
“We must be smart with this one-time money and commit to the people of Alabama that we will invest, not just casually spend, these dollars,” Ivey said. “I’ll say again that these funds are just one-time funds. This is not free money.”
As the legislature looks toward determining Alabama’s 2023 budget, Ivey said her budget proposal will pay down debt and fully fund the state’s rainy-day accounts as well as raise pay for state employees.
Ivey took a few shots at California and Washington D.C. politics, including the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees of the federal government and companies of more than 100 people, thanking Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall for fighting against the requirements in a series of lawsuits.
“I’ll call this nonsense what it is — and that is an un-American, outrageous breach of our federal law,” Ivey said.
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As of January 11, 16,630 Alabamians have died of COVID-19, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. Less than 50% of Alabamians are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
On Oct. 25, Ivey issued an executive order instructing state agencies to not enforce the mandate. Four days later, Alabama joined five other states in a lawsuit against the federal government over the vaccine requirement for federal employees and contractors.
House Democratic leader Rep. Anthony Daniels spoke out against Ivey’s executive order in the Democrats’ response to the State of the State.
“Another big wrong would be to continue to defy the vaccine mandates by responding to a federal mandate with a conflicting state mandate,” Daniels said. “All this does is force our small businesses to essentially pay the biggest tax in Alabama history now that they are forced to go to court, pay that employee’s full salary during that full time of the appeal, up to 37 days. These efforts are not pro-business.”
With the Omicron variant causing state positivity rate and infection records, several Alabama school systems have chosen to move back to virtual instruction. Ivey said in-person schooling “is more critical than ever.”
The governor devoted the last third of her speech to education, announcing her support for legislation to create a Math Task Force, which will provide recommendations for recruiting and retaining math teachers, increase support for struggling students and evaluate instruction methods. Ivey also proposed more grants for failing elementary schools, as well as the 4% pay increase for teachers.
“I say that we cannot continue letting our students and teachers struggle and rob them of a chance to achieve their dreams,” Ivey said.
Much of Ivey’s speech focused on completed, ongoing or planned infrastructure improvements across the state, proposing $12 million toward the creation of two new mental health crisis centers.
At the start of her speech, Ivey touted her plan to build two 4,000-bed men’s prisons to address the state’s dangerous and overcrowded corrections system. The plan, signed by Ivey in October, costs $1.3 billion, funded with $400 million of federal COVID-19 relief money.
Ivey also announced ALDOT’s plans to widen a stretch of I-59 from Chalkville Mountain Road in Birmingham to I-459 near Trussville from four lanes to six.
Ivey referenced several of the state’s accomplishments from the last year, including a 3.1% unemployment rate and improvements to the Deepwater Port of Mobile, citing a near 25% increase in exports from the port in the last year.
“To the rest of the nation, I say loud and clear that Alabama’s Port of Mobile is open for business,” Ivey said.
Ivey honored Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, for his work in government ahead of his retirement at the end of his current term in 2023. Shelby’s career as a legislator began in 1970 after winning a seat to the Alabama State Senate. Shelby worked four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives beginning in 1978 before starting his six-term career in the U.S. Senate.
“Richard Shelby has been instrumental in getting Alabama a seat at the table and has been vital in our state’s successes,” Ivey said. “We are proud of all that he has accomplished for us and congratulate him and his wife Annette on their truly impactful contributions to our state and nation.”
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