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Plans for upcoming year show less promise

Published 5:59am Saturday, January 21, 2012

We are one year into the Bentley administration, a good time to review his performance so far and look at his priorities for the coming year.

Certainly the governor has done some things right in his first twelve months, most notably his public role after the tornadoes of last April. He visited all 38 counties affected by the storms and worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to see that their work was sensitive to local concerns and coordinated with state and local efforts.

For his past work and ongoing efforts in recovery from the worst natural disaster in state history, the governor should be commended. Hopefully he will put his full weight behind a Democratic bill to help in the rebuilding process.

I am co-sponsoring legislation that will provide critical state funding to help rebuild five schools that were destroyed or damaged by the tornadoes. Though these schools maintain the maximum amount of insurance, the payments from the insurance companies and FEMA simply aren’t enough to replace the structures.

It was the same for the school in Enterprise when it was destroyed by a tornado in 2007 and the school in Carbon Hill when it was destroyed in 2002. Providing critical state funds is an important step in helping communities continue their recovery. The administration’s support in this effort is important.

The bill will provide more than $32 million from the Education Trust Fund for the five school systems needing to replace schools.

However, the Education Trust Fund may be a thing of the past if the governor has his way. He recently proposed eliminating the Education Trust Fund and combining the state school budget and General Fund budget into one.

Bentley’s goal is to use tax dollars earmarked for education for other state agencies. In a recent speech in Birmingham, the governor said that one area needing funds from education was the state prison system. Democrats believe prisoners already had their chance, and that we should not give our children’s education money to prisoners.

Every penny of the state income and sales tax is dedicated to schools — the sales tax by state law and the income tax by the state constitution. Unearmarking the income tax, which provides the bulk of school funding, will require a vote of the people, and there is little chance of that passing.

Hopefully the governor’s proposals will be defeated, either by solid Democratic opposition in the legislature or by the voters in the ballot box. Polls show Alabamians like to know exactly where their hard-earned tax dollars go. Earmarking ensures that when revenue is collected for schools no politicians can use it for their own purposes.

Few believe education has enough funding. Four years of cuts and proration have left an education budget one-fifth smaller than it was in 2008. We haven’t bought textbooks in years. We’ve lost thousands of teachers and seen class sizes increase. Taking more from schools is bad for our students and bad for our state’s future.

Gov. Bentley has done some things right in his first year in office. His plans going forward, however, are not with the same care and vision he showed during the tornado disaster response. He can do better.

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