Summer heat too hot for Tuck
July 8, 2001
Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck's support for a 5 percent growth trigger on teacher pay has melted in the summer heat. It's too bad. She was right on the issue in the beginning and she's wrong to reverse her position.
On Friday, Gov. Ronnie Musgrove announced he would call a special session of the Legislature to "untie" teacher pay raises from budget growth requirements. The session will be held July 18 and there's no mystery what will happen.
With the support of Musgrove, Tuck and House Speaker Tim Ford, the trigger mechanism will be disconnected so that our politicians can, again, demonstrate their commitment to giving Mississippi school teachers higher pay so they can move toward that elusive "Southeastern average" we hear so much about.
The projected average for teachers in the Southeast is $41,000 by the 2005-06 school year. The average for the last school year in Mississippi was about $32,000.
Teachers are important. Education is important. But teacher pay is only one of the volatile issues in public education today. Plus, teachers have received the first year of a proposed five-year phased-in pay raise. Musgrove muddied the waters by claiming it was a one-time payment instead of a permanent increase.
In fairness, it should be pointed out that without the 5 percent provision inserted in a bill during the last regular session of the Legislature, there would be no teacher pay increases at all. The provision was inserted by the Senate under Tuck's leadership to placate some legislative leaders who thought the bill was too expensive. It gave them some cover by requiring that pay increases would only be guaranteed if the state's economy grew by at least 5 percent. Otherwise, legislators would have to vote the issue up or down every year.
Even today, no one knows from where the hundreds of millions of new dollars will come. They hope the economy improves; indeed, some say the fact that tax collections were not down as much as expected contributed to the decision to call the special session.
Tuck never got the credit she deserved for saving the pay raise in the 2001 session, especially from the vocal single-issue lobby known as the Mississippi American Federation of Teachers. She's been taking a lot of political heat.
The provision added some measure of fiscal responsibility to a measure that could easily have gotten out of hand most other state employees do not enjoy such special treatment.
Due to her reversal of position on the 5 percent issue, Tuck is the newest darling of the education lobby. "We do not question the sincerity of the Lieutenant Governor in initially supporting this concept but applaud her decision to revisit it in the best interest of education."
Members of the Mississippi American Federation of Teachers pledged to be in Jackson for the July 18 special legislative session to "monitor the speeches and voting."
For her part, Tuck now faces a whole new round of criticism of caving in to the teachers union. It comes just at a time when many voters were beginning to think she had the political skill, toughness and commitment to her ideals to be governor.
Some will give her high marks for the courage to admit she was wrong, always a politically risky maneuver. I think I'll just blame it on the heat.
Buddy Bynum is editor of The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3213, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.