Some time between today and the end of September Governor Bentley will call another special session to try and get the legislature to give him a General Fund budget he will sign and put in place by the beginning of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1.
While the governor has been talking about raising taxes for months, members of the legislature have been equally adamant about NOT raising taxes.
Of course, the governor is term limited and can not stand for re-election. On the other hand, legislators are not term limited and all House and Senate members can run again. And no incumbent wants to run for re-election while his/her opponent tells the public about them increasing taxes. The governor is a good example of how this works as during his 2014 campaign he had billboards all over the state saying NO NEW TAXES.
One of the solutions proposed in the just-failed special session was to move all use taxes from the Education Trust Fund to the General Fund. This was projected to give the General Fund an additional $250 million. However, this met substantial opposition from the education community and did not happen.
Still, as Oct l looms closer and closer, there is still considerable discussion about using education dollars to bail out other state agencies.
Senator Paul Bussman of Cullman has sprinkled the state with an op-ed urging that the Education Trust Fund and General Fund budgets be combined and stating, “It is OK for the education sector to thrive while the rest of the government starves,” and “47 other states have one budget and education is not suffering, and as a matter of fact, education is excelling.”
Paul is a good and reasonable man. Certainly not an ideologue who only listens to those who tell him what he wants to hear. But to maintain that education is thriving makes no sense. I would like to know the basis of this statement. I don’t think he got this information from school superintendents who deal daily with the fact that the state is not upholding its commitment to fully fund the Foundation program. Maybe he should talk to superintendents in the rural counties he represents (Cullman, Winston, Marion, Lawrence) and ask them how much they spend from local funds to run buses each year, money that the Foundation Program is supposed to cover 100 percent.
As to education excelling financially in other states, that too is not based on fact. Take a look at Kansas where teachers are leaving the state as fast as they can because of working conditions caused by lack of adequate funding. Or talk to educators in Wisconsin and Ohio, the home states of presidential hopefuls Scott Walker and John Kasich, and find out how public education budgets have been gutted under these administrations.
But at the end of the day, it is safe to bet that legislators will go after the low-hanging fruit instead of raising taxes because they rarely cast a vote without one eye cocked toward their next election. In this case, the next special session does not bode well for our school children.