- Cullman, Alabama

January 20, 2014

Ignoring the state’s needs

The Cullman Times

CULLMAN — Two points about the Alabama budget process are coming to light, and both are disturbing.

With the Legislature in session, reports are already showing that lawmakers will have more money to spend on education and less for all the other vital state services that fall under the strained General Fund.

Because of the tax structure, any growth in the economy provides more money for public education through sales taxes and other sources. The General Fund, which takes care of Medicaid, prisons, state troopers and other services, is tied heavily to fees and is lagging behind in much needed revenue. The strain, and consequent inaction of the Legislature has left everything that is not tied to the vote-rich education field in a mess.

While most everyone agrees that a well-funded education system is valuable for the state’s future, pushing in raises for education personnel at a time when the General Fund continues to decline is nothing short of political-year pandering. Alabama is far from the position of handing out raises.

Lawmakers’ unwillingness to change the funding structure and provide better support for non-education services reveals a lack of courage or commitment to the kind of change Alabama needs to move forward as an effectively-governed state. The Alabama Education Association, while not the power it once was in the state, maintains a heavy influence over lawmakers with the potential to direct votes to one lawmaker or another.

So who has the courage to stand up and push for the change that is needed to provide Alabama with a budget that is both effective and meaningful. Everytime there is any growth in the economy, lawmakers shove every penny into education, knowing that another downturn will lead to proration. And furthermore, lawmakers are well aware that the General Fund services are highly valuable, but since they maintain prisons and Medicaid no one is particularly concerned with what goes into that budget. Politically, the perception is that no one is going to care.

The day is coming, however, that the state’s political leadership will pay a price for ignoring the need of the General Fund. The consequences may come in the form of a federal takeover of the prisons or the failure to provide for citizens’ needs through Medicaid funding. Perhaps the judicial system will become so backed up that it doesn’t function effectively.

Take your pick. The General Fund continues to remain in the backseat where importance is concerned. That’s why Alabama needs a single budget that demands lawmakers address needs, not political powers and votes.