Alabama Governor Blocks Minimum Wage Increase, Raises Staff Salaries

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Note from Heather Gray of the Justice Initiative out of Atlanta: Welcome to the South, a region of intolerance, bigotry, racism, greed by the privileged white elites along with incredibly brave resistance to it all.

Invoking the 1901 Alabama constitution that continues to destroy local democratic systems and control, the Republican governor of Alabama has blocked Birmingham’s minimum wage increase of $2.85 while giving his own staffers a $73,405 raise. He also has recently “diverted funding from the 2010 BP oil spill recovery effort to finance the renovation of a second Governor’s mansion on the Gulf Coast.”

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Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and his ex-wife, Dianne Bentley, walk down the Alabama Capitol steps during his inauguration for a second term: AP

By Aaron Rupar –

When the city of Birmingham, Alabama voted last month to give its lowest-paid workers a $2.85 raise, Republican Governor Robert Bentley signed a bill banning Alabama cities from raising their minimum wages at all.

Now, news has emerged that Bentley recently gave four of his cabinet members $73,405 raises — an 80 percent increase from the $91,000 salaries they were making previously and landing the governor and the state once again in the cross hairs of bad national news.

One of the beneficiaries of the raises, Alcoholic Beverage Control Board Administrator Mac Gipson, argues his previous $91,000 salary wasn’t sufficient to attract the best talent from the private sector. But an author of the bill that gave Bentley the authority to raise cabinet members’ salaries in the first place says the 80 percent boosts are “outrageous.”

“I’m troubled by the amount of raises that I’ve read about,” said Republican Senator Arthur Orr.

The raises reportedly went into effect late last year, though news of them just broke this week. While the $73,405 salary increases were the largest, more than a dozen members of Bentley’s cabinet and a number of his staff members reportedly received raises as well.

Bentley’s move has been criticized by some of his fellow Republicans, including state board of education candidate Jackie Zeigler.

“The Bentley administration says the state is broke. They have denied pay increases for teachers, state employees and retirees,” Zeigler said. “They closed five state parks and cut back others. They closed 31 drivers license offices. They gutted the State Auditor’s budget. They took 100 State troopers off the road.

“Meanwhile, behind the scenes, they were giving themselves huge pay raises. Cutting the normal people but adding to their own pay,” he said. “This needs to stop.”

On Tuesday, Republican Legislator Mack Butler said an amendment to the general fund budget passed the House to take away a large portion of the money that the governor just gave in pay raises to his staff from his budget and provide it to Medicaid.

Bentley signed a bill in February blocking Alabama cities from raising their minimum wages above the federal floor of $7.25 an hour. Republican super majorities in both chambers of the legislature passed the measure after the city of Birmingham raised its minimum wage to $10.10.

Supporters of the legislation argue raising the minimum wage is bad for businesses – the evidence on that point is mixed – but opponents argue that with the 48th highest poverty rate in the country, it’s time for lawmakers to prioritize lifting Alabama workers out of poverty.

This isn’t the first time in recent months that Bentley’s budgetary choices have come under fire. In December, he diverted funding from the 2010 BP oil spill recovery effort to finance the renovation of a second Governor’s mansion on the Gulf Coast.

A version of this article originally appeared in the liberal think tank blog Think Progress.

© 2016, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.