An Open Letter to Governor Bob Riley
Published 12:00 am Friday, September 23, 2005
Dear Governor Riley:
During an industrial announcement in Selma several of weeks ago, you said, “Senator, I need to talk with you about a special session to consider an education bond issue.”
I had been hearing rumors about your plans for a special session.
Email newsletter signup
I had not, however, heard directly from you.
I was glad we talked.
As I told you, I personally believe a special session for an education bond would be unproductive at best and counter productive at worse.
I want to share with you and the citizens of Alabama my detailed reasoning for such a position.
First, the timing for such a bond issue is the worst possible.
We are in the gravitation pull of the next election for a sitting governor, lieutenant governor and 140 legislators.
Nearly all are anxious to be reelected or elected to higher office.
The temptation to do that which facilitates our election rather than the education of our children is simply too much to resist.
If we really want to help our children, I believe that we must do differently, time wise and otherwise.
Second, we will likely have a whole heap of “piling on.”
Nearly every education bond has increased dramatically through “piling on.”
The closer to an election, the worse the “piling on.”
For example, the last bond issue during the political season was in 1998.
It was introduced at an estimated $252 million with Governor Fob James declaring that was all the Education Trust Fund could afford.
By the time it wound it way through the election year minefields, it had blown-up to $550 million, an increase of 118%.
We are still paying on that bond issue at the rate of $28 million a year.
Worse still, we will be paying $70 million a year starting in 2009.
Worst of all, we will be paying the larger sum until 2019.
Third, the bond proceeds are unlikely to end up where they are most needed.
You and I agree that some real needs, even critical needs, exist.
However, in the throes of an oncoming election, every elected official wants more for those they represent.
It’s our political nature but its also our human nature.
Therefore, the most critical needs will not be fully met while many other less critical needs will be funded.
In the end, the money will be gone and most critical needs will still be with us.
Fourth, we simply do not need more debt at this time.
We still owe nearly $1 billion on various bond debt related to the Education Trust Fund.
We are currently paying over $111 million a year on those debts.
In addition, we must repay the Rainy Day Fund some $72 million over the next two years.
Every time we borrow, we not only pay back what we borrowed but a lot more to cover interest, attorney fees and other costs.
For example, on the current debt, we will pay back $358 million more than we borrowed.
We must be wise in our borrowing as well as our spending.
Fifth, from 2001-2004, we effectively reduced expenditures for education.
One year we could not even fund schoolbooks for our children.
We also reduced the K-12 general budget category known as OCE (other current expenses) by $100 million in 2002.
While we have replenished some of that reduction, we still need $32 million just to repair damage to that one budget category from four years ago.
And there are other areas we need to first make right what we of necessity made wrong during the lean years.
Sixth, we cannot allow potential teacher pay raises to blind us to a common sense fiscal vision.
Just a few months ago, we were locked in an intense debate about whether or not we could afford a 6% pay raise for teachers who had not received a raise in three years.
Yet, we seemed to be saying that we can afford a massive bond issue that could top $1 billion dollars.
(Any amount is too much at this time).
Some view this as another effort to prevent teacher pay raises for years to come since we will be paying back over $200 million per year on education bonds.
Our failure to keep teacher pay competitive compounds the current teacher loss/shortage causing us to not meet No Child Left Behind requirements which you helped enact when you were in Congress.
Seventh, and finally, we cannot be misled by the productivity of the last special session.
We were in and out the session, without rancor or controversy, in the minimum five legislative days.
We must understand the reasons for this success: (1) all but one issue had been extensively considered in the regular session; and (2) legislators were motivated by growing public concern over our failure to past a General Fund Budget and other important legislation during the regular session.
Neither of those conditions will abide in a special session for an education bond.
I believe in doing all we can for public education.
I am sure you feel the same way.
However, in my humble opinion, the reasons, against a special session for an education bond far outweigh by those for one.
Governor, you move at your own peril and, more importantly, the peril of our children and our state.
Now on to Daily Diary.
Saturday – I handled various matters before traveling to Montgomery to chair an Alabama New South Coalition (ANSC) Board meeting.
I then traveled to Birmingham where I met others and traveled on to Nashville, Tennessee to participate in a baby naming ceremony.
I traveled back to Selma, arriving after 4:00 a.m.
the next morning.
Sunday – I did Radio Education and Sunday Review.
I attended Sunday School at Calvary Baptist Church and a Mission Program at Morning Star Baptist Church where Minister Tracy Shannon spoke well.
I then worked into the night.
Monday – I spent the day fundraising for my reelection effort.
I also talked many persons, including lobbyist John Teague, concerning politics, victims of Katrina the Hurricane, and other issues.
I made remarks at the Alabama Association of School Boards Regional meeting in Selma, and talked to various education leaders.
I worked until 11pm.
Tuesday – I traveled to Montgomery for a series of meeting and events including meeting of the Senate Democratic Caucus and a fundraiser for President Pro Tem Lowell Barron.
I also visited with Alabama Trial Lawyers Association Executive Director Ginger Avery Buckner and other leaders.
I worked on Finance and Taxation Education Committee matters, Victims of Katrina issues as I talked to various leaders including State School Superintendent. Dr. Joe Morton and Selma Mayor James Perkins, Jr.
I participated in an ANSC conference call.
I worked deep into the night.
Wednesday – I talked with various persons in the media including Dave White of the Birmingham News, Bob Johnson of the Associated Press, Dana Beyerle of the New York Times Group and Mary Ellen Cheatham of Alabama Public Television.
I talked with other leaders including Uniontown Mayor Phillip White, Perry County School Superintendent John Heard, Selma School Superintendent Dr. James Carter, Department of Agriculture Specialist John Key, State School Superintendent Dr. Joe Morton, and Wallace College Community President Dr. James Mitchell.
I talked to various others including Ellen Gant, Frank Chestnut, Lawrence Towns and Eddie Blue who is leading the Katrina victims effort at 21C.
I shared lunch with Black Belt Community Foundation Executive Director Felicia Jones and worked nearly until midnight.
Thursday – I was up at 4:30 am and left Selma at 5:30 am to catch a 7:30 am flight in Birmingham.
I traveled to Baltimore, MD on to Providence, RI and to Cambridge, MA.
I participated in the Harvard Law School Black Alumni Celebration.
I talked with various Harvard Law School graduates before spending several hours in a local hospital emergency room with a family member who is alright.
I talked to others including K. C. Bailey of Boston.
Friday – Still in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Faya Rose and I began the day over breakfast with Kevin Peterson, executive director of New Democracy Coalition and Robert Hildreth, philanthropist and president-founder of International Bank Services.
We were discussing how to best help victims of Katrina at the 21 Century Youth Leadership Center near Selma.
Kevin was incredibly helpful and Bob (Robert) was incredibly generous.
I then returned to Harvard Law School for the Black Alumni Celebration where, among other things, I presented on Death of A Fat Man with a panel of alumni authors.
I talked with many former classmates before visiting my sister by blood Lelia Gordon and brother by marriage, Sandy Gordon to talk about education, politics, and Katrina issues as well as family matters.
EPILOGUE – Every time we say or write something, we run the risk of it being distorted and contorted.
Such has been the case with this open letter by at least two newspapers.
I understand that this goes with the territory of expressing oneself.
So decide for yourself.