OTHER OPINION: Funds merger bill likely dead in Alabama

By Montgomery (Ala.) Advertisier

At the end of each regular session of the Alabama Legislature, lawmakers give one of their colleagues the “Shroud Award” for the bill that was the most “dead on arrival.” In the session that opens Feb. 7, Gov. Robert Bentley’s proposal to merge the state’s education and General Fund budgets appears to be an early favorite to win.
Bentley’s proposal would be a shoo-in for the Shroud except for one thing — he might not be able to find a sponsor for it.
On Tuesday, four chairmen of the Legislature’s budget committees told The Associated Press that the governor’s proposal to combine the two state budgets into one unified budget lacks the support to pass the Legislature at this point.
Bentley said earlier that he knew his proposal would be hard to sell to legislators, but that he likes to “stir things up.”
But the state’s General Fund budget, which covers most non-education functions of state government, faces a very real crisis. The governor needs to make some real-world suggestions.
The governor has proposed two solutions for that problem: One is merging the education and General Fund budgets, and the other is removing some earmarking from education revenues so that they could be diverted to state agencies.
But both proposals have the same serious flaw – education in Alabama, especially public schools, is dramatically underfunded. Consider that the amount the state budgets for education has declined precipitously in the past four years. That drop in funding has hurt local school systems. The state recommends that school systems keep about three months operating revenues in reserve, and … require one month in reserves.
Dr. Eric Mackey, executive director of the School Superintendents of Alabama, said that currently only about 25 of the state’s 132 local school systems meet that three-month standard; about 30 local systems don’t have one month of reserves. The General Fund budget needs a reliable source of funding – one that will grow along with inflation. But at a time when education entities are also hurting for funding, the state doesn’t need to divert education money to the General Fund.
– Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser

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