State senators broke a weeks-long stalemate Wednesday after some met with teachers lobbyist Paul Hubbert and university lobbyist Joe Fine and reached a deal on the education budget. Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, said he now thinks chances are "very good" that lawmakers on May 5 will pass an education budget for fiscal year 2006, which begins Oct. 1st. The deal reached by Hubbert, Fine and about 14 senators, who met at the headquarters of the Alabama Education Association, would make just a few changes to the education budget passed by the House of Representatives. Hubbert, who is AEA`s executive secretary, showed up even though he had heart bypass surgery earlier this month. Fine represents the University of Alabama System and Auburn University. The deal keeps across-the-board raises of 6 percent for the roughly 100,000 teachers and other employees of public schools and two-year colleges. The raises would start Oct. 1 and cost $184.8 million a year. It commits the Senate Democratic majority to pass the education budget by May 5, the next-to-last day in this year`s regular session of the Legislature. Passing it then would give lawmakers the time to override a threatened veto by Republican Gov. Bob Riley, who says 4 percent raises would be more affordable. The House and Senate could vote May 16, the session`s last day, to pass the budget and the 6 percent raises over Riley`s objection. Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, predicted lawmakers would override any veto by Riley. It gives public universities $14 million more than the House-passed budget next year. They would get $1.014 billion from the stte Education Trust Fund, up 15 percent from this year. Senators say school tax collections this year have exceeded forecasts by enough to provide extra money. It lets universities keep getting an extra $4.93 million after next year. AEA spokesman David Stout said the teachers lobby endorsed the deal in part because it virtually assures approval of 6 percent raises starting Oct. 1. Barron, the top-ranking senator, said next year`s operating budget for state agencies may have a tougher time passing. He noted that it depends on lots of one-time money, which could create a need for $300 million in tax increases or spending cuts the following yer. If it dies, Riley would have to call lawmakers into special session later this year to try to pass an operating budget by Oct. 1.
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