MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama House Democrats on Monday released their 2016 legislative agenda, and it echoes many of the priorities of the national Democratic Party, including raising the minimum wage and mandating so called “equal pay” for women.
“Our focus is going to be on education, the economy and elections-the three E’s,” said House Minority Leader Craig Ford (D-Gadsden). “We’re offering a lot of new things this year, as well as continuing to push for some of our long-time priorities, like the lottery.”
With regard to education, both Democrats and Republicans have included a teacher pay raise in their legislative agendas, making it almost certain that educators will get a bump this year, although how significant remains to be seen.
Additionally, Democrats are proposing taxpayer-funded pre-k for all of Alabama’s four-year-olds at a cost of $144 million annually. Pre-k has been a priority of Governor Robert Bentley’s, but the current program — which has been called the nation’s best — has also come under fire from some conservatives who view it as “taxpayer-funded daycare” and question whether it influences longterm education outcomes.
In order to fund the pre-k expansion, Democrats propose repealing the Rolling Reserve Act, which caps the growth of the state’s Education Budget and sends surplus money into a reserve account to be used in lean years when tax revenue is down. The Rolling Reserve saved the state $140 million in 2015, almost exactly the amount Democrats say should be spent annually on expanding pre-k.
Democrats also plan to roll out legislation to address the supposed gender pay gap.
“It’s amazing that gender pay equality isn’t already the law,” said Rep. Adline Clarke (D-Mobile), the sponsor of the pay equality bill. “This bill, like so many others in our legislative agenda, addresses a need that is long overdue. The path to a stronger economy begins with paying women fairly for the work they do.”
President Obama and other Democrats at the national level have frequently pledged to address the pay gap, but many economists question whether it actually exists in the form the feminist movement say it does.
According to Forbes contributor and Independent Women’s Forum managing director Carrie Lukas, “equal pay” advocates “presume the difference between men and women’s average earnings stems from discrimination… The wage gap statistic, however, doesn’t compare two similarly situated co-workers of different sexes, working in the same industry, performing the same work, for the same number of hours a day. It merely reflects the median earnings of all men and women classified as full-time workers.”
Lukas goes on to say she believes the wage gap is the result of men and women simply making different career choices at different stages of life, particularly when it comes to having children.
“Feminists may protest, but American women aren’t the victims of a sexist economy,” she concluded. “It’s time to declare an end to the Equal Pay myth.”
Alabama Democrats are also pushing to install a statewide minimum wage.
“Alabama does not have a state minimum wage, and the federal minimum wage is not a living wage,” they wrote in a release. “House Democrats will introduce legislation to establish a state minimum wage and to gradually set that wage at $10.10 an hour with an automatic cost-of-living increase that would be increase when federal social security benefits increase.”
Troy University economist Dr. Daniel J. Smith believes such a minimum wage increase would actually hurt individuals on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder.
“The reality is, the least-skilled Alabamians — primarily young, part-time workers — will face unemployment as mandated wage rates exceed their skill and experience levels,” he said. “Sadly, their best option for gaining the skill and experience necessary to earn a higher wage through on-the-job experience is taken away. To truly help these workers, policy makers should focus on helping this group boost their skills through educational reform and by expanding economic opportunity, not by increasing the costs of employing them.”
To see the Alabama Democrats’ full 2016 legislative agenda, click here.