- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

Jan. 20

The Daily Home, Talladega, Ala., on the next best thing to being there:

A state senate bill would allow members of government bodies and boards, with some exceptions, to attend meetings and vote through electronic communications without actually being at the meeting place.

Introduced by Senator Arthur Orr, the bill passed his house last year and this year and could be on a path to passage in this session. A quorum of the body must be physically present, and the communications must allow the long-distance member to hear and be heard by all participants, and roll call votes would be taken.

Local bodies would be excluded, with a requirement that members be from at least two counties.

The proposal could save the state upward of $2 million in travel reimbursement expenses in a year’s time.

As written, the bill seems reasonable. Locally, the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind board of trustees has members representing congressional districts across the state; the possibility of using virtual meeting technology on occasion would be an important option for them, and for others serving on statewide and regional boards and bodies.

Reports indicate 38 other states and the District of Columbia already have legislation on the books authorizing electronic communications, and only two specifically forbid it_Alabama is one of those.

The bill appears to be a good one that would enhance efficiency and economy in government, and we see that as a good thing.

Online:

http://www.dailyhome.com

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Jan. 16

Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News on Bentley makes right call on general fund:

With signs the economy is improving slightly, state agencies in Montgomery asked for more than $280 million in additional funding for programs, new employees and raises for state employees in this year’s budget. A good bit of that might well have been put to good use. But that isn’t going to happen.

Gov. Robert Bentley proposed a General Fund budget of $1.8 billion, up only slightly from $1.78 billion last year. That increase comes despite an $83 million projected decline in general fund revenues. Bentley used money from reserve funds to make up the difference.

Bentley proposed increases only in the budgets for Medicaid and the Department of Corrections, and those increases were well below the amounts department heads requested.

General Fund employees aren’t entirely without hope of a pay increase. They have the possibility of receiving up to a 4-percent raise. But that will depend on the state collecting more in tax revenues than it anticipates, which doesn’t seem likely.

State agencies and employees are probably tired of hearing that times are tough. For more than four years, they’ve been told that slow economic growth limits the state’s ability to increase agency budgets and give pay raises.

But the plain fact is that the state can do little more than level fund the General Fund and give a small increase to education budgets. Some state employees may grow so tired of the persistent stagnation that they will consider leaving for greener pastures.

The problem with that is that the drought extends to the other side of the fence. Private sector jobs are as stagnant and as hard to come by as government employment. And as long as taxpayers working in the private sector aren’t getting pay raises or seeing growth in their businesses, it’s unlikely there will be more tax revenue for state employees and agencies.

Overly optimistic revenue projections will only lead to proration down the road. The governor is making the right call.

Online:

http://www.tuscaloosanews.com

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Jan. 17

Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser on invest in students’ potential:

In an ever more complex and competitive job market, it matters whether Alabama’s students graduate from high school, which is why it was so encouraging to see the state’s graduation rate hit 80 percent last year, the highest in state history.

The “focus” of educators is critical to the rising graduation rate, targeted at 90 percent by 2020, state Superintendent Tommy Bice said. “We made a commitment that we were going to increase our graduation rate,” he said. “We’re working with school systems to come up with creative and innovative ways to teach our children. It shows what our local folks can do when we have a clear focus on what we want to see occur.”

A high school dropout is at a tremendous disadvantage in trying to find a decent job in today’s economy. Without even the minimum skills demonstrated by graduation, the dropout has little hope of being so much as considered for many jobs, much less being hired for them. The dropout also lacks the credentials to begin higher education or enter a technical college, two major assets in finding employment.

The statewide trend - despite disappointing numbers in Montgomery - is moving in the right direction, but the challenge of maintaining it remains. As Bice noted in his budget presentation to the Legislature, problems that lead to dropouts don’t start in high school, but earlier in the process.

State law requires school attendance until the age of 16, yet many dropouts leave school in the ninth grade, Bice said, which indicates a population of students that is “overaged and undercredited.” It is crucial to work with struggling students in the middle school grades.

“We know it’s sixth, seventh and eighth grade that we begin to lose them,” Bice said. “All the data we have supports that that is the most crucial area.”

For that reason, Bice is asking the Legislature to approve $32 million to hire 450 middle school teachers. It’s hard to imagine a better investment in human potential and thus in our state’s future.

Bice’s overall budget request is higher than projected revenues would cover, but in debating the amount of the education budget, we urge legislators to keep this requested appropriation intact. It’s a relatively small sum in the context of the entire budget, but its long-term impact will be huge.

Online:

http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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