Archived Story

Make those who pay nothing do their fair share

Published 5:59am Saturday, December 31, 2011

Recently, Governor Bentley floated the idea to divert school funds to prisons and other state functions.
It is a bad idea — a terrible idea — and Alabama Democrats will fight to defeat any diversion of classroom funding.
The idea of sending money for inmates who had their chance at life, while depriving children of their own chance, is a non-starter.
People will not stand for it, nor will Democrats in the legislature.
It is not like schools are swimming in funds. Education has been cut more in the past four years than any time in modern state history.
Years of proration have seen the state school budget reduced more than 20 percent since the start of the recession in 2007.
For years we haven’t bought textbooks. We cut funding for teachers, and then reduced their number while increasing class size.
We slashed classroom supply funds and technology purchases. It has been a very difficult stretch for Alabama education.
One thing Democrats did before the last election was to protect some of the most vital parts of education.
Cuts fell on items like transportation and maintenance.
We protected things like the Alabama Reading Initiative, a key part of why our state has led the nation over the past decade in early literacy gains.
Distance learning and the initiative in math and science were also spared the knife because these programs work in improving student achievement and opportunity.
What the governor is proposing is to divert some of the money collected from state sales taxes and use it to help fund the General Fund budget.
This is very much out of balance. The state sales tax — four percent on everything from groceries to computers — is earmarked for education. As the law reads today, it cannot go to any other purpose.
Bentley proposes to change the law.
Along with the sales tax, every penny of the state income tax, by law, goes to education.
Alabama gets a lot of criticism from so-called “experts” that we earmark too much of our state taxes. These “experts” say locking up these funding sources for schools is wrong because it ties the hands of legislators.
Alabama voters disagree.
We like to know exactly where our hard-earned tax dollars are going.
Earmarking ensures that when money is collected for a purpose, such as funding schools, that it goes to that purpose.
Removing the earmarks can and will open up the state purse to abuse.
There is little doubt that the governor is having a difficult time finding funds to pay for prisons, Medicaid and other state functions.
Democrats agree that we should not put hospitals or prison guards at risk — something that will happen if more revenue is not found for the General Fund. But the governor has an option beyond trying to take money from schools.
He can close unfair corporate loopholes that rob millions of dollars from the General Fund.
Alabama has the lowest taxes in the nation by far, yet corporate tax lawyers look at the antiquated state tax code like a holiday ham to carve up.
They use tricks and accounting gimmicks to limit — and sometimes eliminate — their tax obligation in Alabama. This is money that would go to improve prison guard safety and keep courthouses open.
The loopholes and gimmicks have gotten so bad that billion-dollar corporations often pay less in state taxes than just one Alabama working family. That is not right, and the governor can change it.
If you want more funding for the courts or public health, call Governor Bentley and tell him not take it from our children. Tell the governor that it is time to make those who pay nothing do their fair share.

Johnny Mack Morrow is a state representative for Franklin County. His column appears each week.

Editor's Picks