By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Political bickering between leaders of the two legislative chambers began Wednesday after the House declined to accept the Senate’s version of a teacher pay raise bill.
The House voted 71-50 to send the legislation to a conference committee to negotiate differences in its proposal with the Senate’s.
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves accused his fellow Republicans in the House of “political posturing” by not accepting the changes the Senate made to the House pay raise bill and sending it on to Gov. Phil Bryant.
“I had hoped this week Gov. Bryant could sign a significant teacher pay increase that included merit pay and was within our budget, but the House let political posturing win over increased teacher pay,” Reeves said in a statement.
In a competing news release, House Speaker Philip Gunn said, “It is obvious that everyone in the Capitol supports a teacher pay raise. … We commend the Senate for coming around to our way of thinking regarding a pay raise.”
The result of this political back and forth appears to be the possibility of a larger pay raise for teachers. House leaders now say they want to pass the larger, Senate version of the pay raise in the first two years, and still pass the additional two years of a pay raise proposed early this year by the House.
The Senate plan, which the House leadership says it now would support in conference, is to provide a $1,500 raise on July 1 followed by another $1,000 increase the following July.
The original House proposal would provide teachers a $500 increase on Jan. 1, followed by a $1,000 raise on July 1, 2015, if they meet benchmarks spelled out in the legislation.
The original House plan calls for substantial raises of $1,350 and $1,400 in years three and four if state revenue grows by more than 3 percent as is anticipated. The House leadership’s new position, according to Gunn’s statement, is to provide smaller raises in years three and four if the 3 percent growth trigger is met.
House Education Chairman John Moore, R-Brandon, said that in conference he would support eliminating the benchmarks he originally supported for teachers to meet to receive the pay raise.
The total of the House leadership’s pay raise proposal over four years would be $4,250 if the 3 percent growth trigger is met – close to the $5,000 pay raise supported by legislative Democrats and first proposed last session by Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville.
In debate Wednesday, many House Democrats argued to accept the Senate changes to the legislation and send it to Bryant for his signature.
The reasoning, they argued, was that they liked the larger size of the Senate proposal in the first two years and were fearful that because of the inability of an agreement to be reached the whole pay raise proposition could be killed in conference.
“We felt a bird in the hand was better than two in the bush,” said Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis.
The part of the Senate plan that the House leadership seemed most opposed to was a proposal to provide teachers potential bonuses in years three and afterward based on overall school performance.
House leaders claimed the proposal was unconstitutional because it would provide pay to public employees for work already done. Senate leaders point to a earlier ruling of the attorney general that would allow merit pay for teachers.
House and Senate leaders have until late March to reach agreement in conference.