"I recognize that parents are concerned about the furloughs for public school teachers on instructional days.
By law, wages and hours of employment of state employees are subject to collective bargaining agreement between the union and state employer (which, for public school teachers, are the Board of Education, Superintendent of Education, and Governor, not the Legislature). Since the Legislature was not involved in the negotiations, it is inappropriate to engage in after-the-fact criticism or blame of either party for the final agreement. Both the state employer and union had an extremely difficult time. I respect their efforts and the process.
Going forward, the House will consider solutions to the school furlough issue during the upcoming regular session.
Parents and the public, however, should be aware that public education is one of several priorities that will be adversely impacted by the budget crisis. Other state services and employees will suffer because of furloughs and, possibly, layoffs. The Legislature must also consider those state services and employees.
Much has been made for using the hurricane fund to reduce the number of furlough days for public school teachers. That, however, would be shortsighted. The hurricane fund acts as a reserve which, in essence, allows the State to issue construction bonds at good interest rates. If the hurricane fund is depleted, interest rates on those bonds may increase, requiring higher annual debt repayments. Moreover, the hurricane fund has no revenue source to replenish itself. Because of this, the use of the hurricane fund would not be a long-term solution. What will we do in the future after the hurricane fund is depleted?
Solutions to the budget crisis will require a better, more thoughtful and balanced approach combining revenue enhancements and expenditure reductions. The general fund shortfall is over $1 billion, and the savings from furloughs are not enough to close the deficit. To resolve the problem, the Legislature will have to be innovative and courageous enough to make difficult decisions that will inevitably create hardship, but will serve the good of the general public."