Alabama state employees might get $400 bonus

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - State employees may end up with a one-time pay bonus of $400 in the new fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

Senate budget committee Chairman Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, announced Wednesday he will propose the bonus when the Senate considers the state General Fund budget.

The Senate Finance and Taxation-General Fund Committee approved a General Fund budget for noneducation agencies Wednesday that would spend $1.84 billion in the new fiscal year.

That’s $15 million more than the budget recently approved by the House and about $17 million more than the governor recommend when the legislative session began two months ago. It is $33 million larger than the budget for the current fiscal year.

The committee also approved a bill recommended by the governor that would allow him to grant a 4 percent cost-of-living raise to state employees if extra state revenue becomes available. Orr said that extra money is uncertain, and he will ask the Senate to amend that bill to add a guaranteed bonus of about $400. He said he is still working on a final amount before presenting it to the Senate, which could occur as early as Thursday. A $400 bonus would cost the General Fund about $4.6 million.

“We feel confident about the $4.6 million,” he said.

State employees last got a cost-of-living raise in October 2008. Many are getting merit raises of up to 5 percent this year for exceptional performance.

A separate bill already passed by the Senate and pending in the House would give retired state employees a one-time bonus of $2 per month for each year of service. A retiree with 25 years of service would get $600.

The bonus proposals do not cover active or retired education employees, who are funded from a separate budget.

The General Fund budget approved by Orr’s committee makes a few major changes from the one passed earlier by the House.

It adds $3.5 million to turn a former state mental health facility in Wetumpka into space for female prisoners now packed into Tutwiler Prison for women in Wetumpka, and it adds $250,000 for Gov. Robert Bentley to hire an ombudsman in his office to handle complaints from Tutwiler Prison.

Women at the prison have complained of rape and sexual abuse, and the U.S. Department of Justice recently sent the governor a letter saying that conditions at the prison are unconstitutional.

“This is a way to give the governor a direct line to what’s going on in Tutwiler with the inmates,” Orr said.

Jennifer Ardis, the governor’s communications director, said Bentley has been working with Orr on the prison appropriation and supports funding the ombudsman.

The co-chairman of the Legislature’s prison oversight committee, Republican Sen. Cam Ward of Alabaster, supported the additions, but said they are not enough to solve problems in Alabama’s prison system.

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