State Sen. Shadrack McGill defended a pay raise his predecessors in the Legislature passed, but said doubling teacher pay could lead to less-qualified educators.
At a prayer breakfast in Fort Payne this week, McGill was asked about the death of a defendant in the public corruption trial that was scheduled to begin Monday. Ray Crosby, a former legislative employee, was facing one count of bribery in federal court.
Also on trial are one current and two former state senators, a lobbyist and consultant for gambling and a casino owner.
McGill, R-Woodville, said a 62 percent pay raise in 2007 - passed first by a controversial voice vote and later in an override of a veto by then-Gov. Bob Riley - better rewards lawmakers and makes them less susceptible to being swayed by lobbyists.
Lawmakers entered the 2007 legislative session making $30,710 a year, a rate that had not been changed in 16 years. The raise increased it to $49,500 annually.
"That played into the corruption, guys, big time," he said. "You had your higher-ranking legislators that were connected with the lobbyists making up in the millions of dollars. They weren't worried about that $30,000 paid salary they were getting," McGill said, adding that lawmakers have to pay for their expenses out of pocket.
McGill said that by paying legislators more, they're less susceptible to taking bribes.
"He needs to make enough that he can say no, in regards to temptation. ... Teachers need to make the money that they need to make. There needs to be a balance there. If you double what you're paying education, you know what's going to happen? I've heard the comment many times, ‘Well, the quality of education's going to go up.' That's never proven to happen, guys.
"It's a Biblical principle. If you double a teacher's pay scale, you'll attract people who aren't called to teach.
"To go in and raise someone's child for eight hours a day, or many people's children for eight hours a day, requires a calling. It better be a calling in your life. I know I wouldn't want to do it, OK?
"And these teachers that are called to teach, regardless of the pay scale, they would teach. It's just in them to do. It's the ability that God give 'em. And there are also some teachers, it wouldn't matter how much you would pay them, they would still perform to the same capacity.
"If you don't keep that in balance, you're going to attract people who are not called, who don't need to be teaching our children. So, everything has a balance."
Last year, McGill introduced a bill that would tie legislators' pay to the average teacher's pay, including benefits. He later claimed teachers in Alabama rank fourth in the nation in average pay and benefits of about $65,000.
"The AEA [Alabama Education Association] would have a tough time with that because they don't want people knowing that information," McGill told an audience in Fort Payne in November.
Sen. Phil Williams, R-Rainbow City, said last week he would introduce a bill to raise the pay of teachers on the job for fewer than nine years by 2½ percent. Williams said the state can't afford to give a raise to all teachers.
Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, told the Times-Journal on Friday that such a raise wouldn't be fair to longer-serving teachers.
"They're the ones that are having the hardest time paying their bills," said Ford, the House minority leader.
In a statement later in the day, Ford said, "This proposal may be one of the most absurd things Phil Williams and the Republican supermajority have ever tried to pull."
The new executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association, James Mabry, will be in Fort Payne on Wednesday to speak with AEA members about the upcoming legislative session.
The meeting will begin at 5 p.m. at the Fort Payne City Hall auditorium. The legislative session will begin Tuesday in Montgomery.