- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

Aug. 17

Montgomery (Alabama) Advertiser on state’s education funding and General Fund Budget:

There’s much to lament about the Legislature’s failure during the special session to produce a workable General Fund budget to pay for critical state services.

But at least the Republican supermajority wasn’t able to raid the state’s separate Education Trust Fund in a maneuver to avoid the hard work of good fiscal governance.

Not that they didn’t try, with a number of faulty proposals to divert education dollars to other areas.

As the Advertiser’s Brian Lyman reported, both chambers looked at moving $225 million in use tax dollars from the ETF to the General Fund. Senate leaders said they’d find a way to replace the money next year.

We’ve heard that one before.

The idea of the transfer is not without merit. Gov. Robert Bentley included it in his proposals for shoring up the General Fund during the regular session. But he paired it with new revenue measures to replace the lost funds for schools.

Good for House Ways and Means Education chairman Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, who helped stall the irresponsible bill by opposing any plan that doesn’t come with a replacement method.

The fight isn’t over yet, however.

You can bet on similar attempts in the second special session. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, doesn’t believe restoring the loss to the ETF is a priority, perhaps because he wants to increase pressure on other lawmakers to support his gambling proposals.

That’s a risky political game he’s playing with Alabama’s students. State Superintendent Tommy Bice has warned taking the money from the ETF without replacing it could force the education department into proration, with harsh across-the-board cuts to schools.

Advocates for education in the Legislature must refuse to pass any transfer of use taxes until a reliable revenue back-fill source is identified.

Another dubious hit on education came from the House Ways and Means Education committee, which voted to ding the Rolling Reserve Act by as much as $50 million to help cover the General Fund shortfall.

That failed to gain traction, as it should have. Alabamians have had enough of shortsighted patches that just leave the state more deeply mired in fiscal morass.

Expect also to hear more talk about merging the General Fund and education budget as a solution to the state’s budget ills. In an ideal world, combining budgets, as many states do, might make sense.

But who would trust the Legislature to take the responsible course under a unified budget that wouldn’t produce one cent of new revenue?

Almost certainly, a merger would turn into a grab on education dollars for already underfunded schools, a travesty that can’t be allowed to happen.




Aug. 18

TimesDaily, Florence, Alabama on Gov. Robert Bentley’s tax proposals for state:

Gov. Robert Bentley last week asked Alabamians to “aggravate the stew” out of lawmakers and encourage them to say “yes” to his tax proposals.

Considering this Legislature’s inability to do much more than pass kneejerk, self-serving bills, the governor’s request is a smart, even modest, one.

Our politicians, most of them at any time, seem prepared to do anything that:

A) Sounds anti-establishment;

B) Requires no depth of research;

C) Keeps them elected.

We all can cite examples - there have been scores through the years.

And the governor’s hands are far from clean in all of this. He, like other candidates who ran on a “no new taxes” pledge, have done the insincere. They told us what we wanted to hear, simply to get elected. Now tasked with the responsibility of actually governing, he accepts what any responsible governor would say - state coffers need more tax dollars.

His ideas on where to find tax dollars - such as cigarettes and the elimination of FICA (Social Security and Medicare) tax deductions - are reasonable and certainly don’t put us above average of other states.

Some legislators contend Alabamians “have no appetite” for new taxes, and while that’s a broad statement that can be said of most anyone, anywhere, it’s not an answer.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, and House Majority Leader Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, said they’ve had no calls from constituents to raise taxes in order to protect services such as Medicaid.

But those aren’t the kind of calls very many people make. That’s why it’s called leadership: You do what’s hard, then have the courage and integrity to explain to constituents why it has to be this way.

For the record: the governor contends legislators are indeed receiving these calls, but perhaps simply aren’t returning them.

Ultimately, that isn’t relevant. It’s not the responsibility of the poor or elderly to lobby, picket or beg for services. And to imply it is, isn’t leadership, either.

Another legislator, State Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, like his peers has a bad plan to balance the budget, but he literally wants to shut down the state Department of Education.

Henry’s assertion that four-year higher education in Alabama actually has “more (money) than they need” is not only disingenuous, it’s dangerous because its intent is to keep a class of poorly paid blue-collar workers at status quo.

While we have a genuine need for skilled labor in Alabama, we are foolish to pigeonhole our youth into lives with low ceilings. Who among us doesn’t want our children to do better, achieve more, live all their dreams?

Don’t let our lawmakers set limits on Alabama in the name of looking out for you.




Aug. 16

Dothan (Alabama) Eagle on concept of open government:

One of the basic tenets of our representational government is the concept of inclusion for members of the public. The business conducted by those appointed or elected to governmental bodies is expected to be open for public scrutiny. Deliberations and votes are to be made in public meetings that have been adequately announced and advertised to the public at large.

The product of the work these governmental entities produce is to be available to anyone who wants to examine it.

There are few exceptions, but generally speaking, the Open Meetings and Open Records laws of Alabama ensure that the people of our state have access to meetings and documents, and assurance that deliberations of matters of public interest are not conducted in private.

The intent is crystal clear, but the execution is often muddied.

Earlier this year, the Alabama Legislature considered legislation that would tighten language in the law, which contained a loophole that could be interpreted to allow secret meetings between two or more members of a board, but less than a quorum.

That’s responsible government. However, in the otherwise fruitless special session that recently ended, the Legislature passed a measure that would allow members of public boards to phone in their votes to public meetings in which a quorum is present.

That would mean that a school board member who could not physically attend a meeting could cast a vote via telephone or videoconference in a public meeting. That would make participating in government more convenient for an official who could not attend.

But this knife cuts both ways; it could be abused by officials who simply don’t want to bother to attend, or could lead to situations in which deliberation that should be public takes place over telephone conversations that cannot be heard by anyone except those participating in the call.

It’s a slippery slope, and one best avoided.



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