- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

April 21

Anniston (Alabama) Star on dissecting Bentley’s budget plan:

Gov. Robert Bentley delivered his plan to balance the state’s budget very late. Here are the key dates:

1. His plan was released about two months ago. 2. The next fiscal year starts Oct 1. 3. The 2015 session of the state Legislature concludes next month.

Bentley’s proposal to increase taxes on tobacco, sales of automobiles and out-of-state corporations wasn’t unveiled until the eve of the current legislative session. This gave him very little time to sell taxes increases, a very difficult premise at almost any time in Alabama.

The Bentley fix has very few friends among legislators, even though the best plan they’ve offered thus far is to strip state government like an old car sitting in a junkyard.

The governor set his budgetary sights on low-hanging fruit, tax increases that won’t depend on Alabama voters to pass. That’s a safe bet, especially since the state’s residents frequently vote against their own economic interests.

Yet, despite its limitations, it is a plan. Bentley deserves praise for offering a solution rather than contributing to Alabama’s problems. His tax proposals are expected to generate $500 million, which will keep the state from closing parks, courthouses and other government offices. That fix sure beats the closings and layoffs that will follow not raising more revenue.

Our suggestion to Bentley and legislators is to do more than keep the lights on in state government for one more year. The revenue shortfall illustrates the deep flaws in our system of taxing and spending.

We rely too heavily on sales taxes, which put a heavier burden on poorer Alabamians.

Sales taxes subject budget-writers to cycles of boom and bust. When the economy is roaring, we have more cash. When it’s down, as it currently is, we are starved of dollars. State budgets are better off with more consistent streams of revenue.

The state’s already-low property taxes offer large landowners a sweetheart tax deal, one far better than the typical Alabama homeowner receives.

On the spending side, the governor and lawmakers have very little say in how the vast majority of tax revenue is spent. Almost $9 out of every $10 collected is earmarked. This system handcuffs Montgomery, preventing state government from quickly shifting funds to the most pressing needs.

We will grant that none of the fundamental fixes for our budget process are low-hanging fruit. They require a majority in the Legislature and, perhaps even more daunting, agreement from Alabama voters.

The main selling point of tax reform is that it provides stability to operations of state government. And it gives us a future with less budget calamities such as the one we are currently facing.




April 22

Dothan (Alabama) Eagle on using vulnerable citizens as pawns in budget battle:

Since her fallout with the local Republicans a few years back over her support of then-U.S. Rep. Bobby Bright, a Democrat, in his re-election campaign, state Sen. Harri Anne Smith has been twice re-elected to the state legislature - and she’s learned that being independent of party affiliation gives her a great deal of freedom to speak her mind.

That came in handy this week, because Smith was hot under the collar about a series of phone calls to her Medicaid Waiver constituents late Friday from state case workers who told them their services would be cut or eliminated if lawmakers passed the state budget under consideration.

Smith and other lawmakers got a deluge of calls from panicked ailing and/or elderly constituents who didn’t know what they’d do if their services were cut.

Smith was livid, and minced no words in blaming Gov. Robert Bentley for using this vulnerable group of Alabamians as pawns in a political strategy to see his tax proposals through.

“These are not the people to call,” she told the Eagle on Monday. “These people were confused and panicked. They wanted to know if their medicine would be available Monday. The calls were heart wrenching.”

Smith was right to be angry. Although a spokesman for the governor said the calls were intended to inform voters of potential cuts, the result was, as Smith points out, panic and confusion.

The governor’s office owes these Alabamians a detailed explanation. While there is a potential for any of a number of government services to suffer from budget shortfalls, programs like Medicaid Waiver are funded until the end of September. Even if lawmakers do nothing to close the gap between revenue and expenditures, those challenges won’t arise until Oct. 1.

Politics in Alabama has always been a dirty game, and the losers are, more often than not, the everyday citizens of the state.

However, drawing the most vulnerable among us into fray as political leverage is low, even by the traditional standard of Alabama politics.




April 22

Decatur (Alabama) Daily on Common Core:

As our students take end-of-year exams tied to Common Core, more and more states are reporting that students and parents are frustrated, and it’s hard to weed out the legitimate concerns from the misguided.

First of all, let’s get it out of the way one more time: Common Core was a plan drawn up at a National Governors Convention by state governors and education leaders. Those who denounce it as an evil agenda of President Barack Obama have been misled. Each state creates its own tests.

But Common Core, which in Alabama is aligned with Alabama College and Career Readiness Standards, is taking heat for reasons that might be different from household to household.

We should acknowledge as Americans, we prefer change when it makes life more convenient. Smartphones, modern coffee makers - those are in our comfort zone. Other things that would benefit us in the long run, we are less likely to embrace.

Take, for example, the 150-year effort to convert America to the metric system. It would save millions of dollars, and literally every other industrialized nation has made the leap.

It shouldn’t be that difficult. Yet here we stand, still eating quarter-pounders while the world would understand a one-hectogram burger.

Through Common Core, students learn in a way that is a little different from the way their parents learned. It’s the new, new math, which has at times made it frustrating for parents trying to help their kids with homework.

This time it’s not just us Southerners making the fuss. Resistance has been palpable in New York, Maine, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania - a lot of states.

Much of the criticism is about the volume of standardized tests. By the time a student has finished 12th grade, she or he has taken 113 standardized tests, according to a survey by the Council of the Great City Schools. Only 17 of those are mandated by the federal government, but that doesn’t prevent pandering elected officials from crying about state rights and federal intrusion.

No Child Left Behind, which made important strides in its early years but became unrealistic before it played out, taught us when tests are tied to teacher success, bad things happen.

The conviction of 35 Atlanta educators this month in a mass cheating scandal was evidence, and “teaching to the test” has become a part of the lexicon.

Teachers now devote 30 percent of their work time on testing-related tasks, the National Education Association says.

All that said, educators both locally and nationally still stand by Common Core. And they understand education in ways lawmakers and most parents never could.

If it is to fall apart, we should make sure we are doing the right thing - not taking a foolish political position or simply avoiding change that could lead to educational progress.



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