School funding still not settled

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 14, 2001

Special to The Messenger

ALEXANDER CITY – Gov. Don Siegelman on Thursday called a legislative compromise plan "good news," but he said he will not support a plan that uses oil and gas royalties to make up for a current shortfall in the state’s education budget.

Siegelman used visits with three schools that won state football championships to reiterate his pledge not to cut school funding for a second straight year. "There is a relationship between football and future cuts in education," Siegelman said as he stood in Alexander City’s Benjamin Russell High School gymnasium. "We’re not going to let cuts happen in this state."

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Last week, state schools Superintendent Ed Richardson proposed cutting sports and other extracurricular activities if the Legislature cannot stop more cuts.

The Legislature on Wednesday announced a compromise plan that would cap at $1 million the minimum privilege tax for large corporations. The proposal also includes a constitutional amendment to use money from the oil and gas royalties to establish a "rainy day" fund to prevent future cuts. "We had some good news this morning. The Legislature has come up with a compromise plan. They’re following the plan I put before them and they’re going to close these loopholes. They’re not closing them as tightly as I asked."

Siegelman said he wants corporations to pay their "fair share." "We don’t want to do anything that impacts Russell Corp. or any other company that pays its fair share of taxes," Siegelman said. The governor said he has identified 619 companies in Alabama that do not pay their fair share thanks to "loopholes" in the tax code. "There is a company worth over a billion dollars that had sales of $1.5 billion over the last three years, and for three years it has paid nothing in school taxes," Siegelman said. "It’s wrong to let this continue while our young people work as hard as they do. It’s wrong to think after-school programs or schools might have to close.

"I’m going to fight in Montgomery as hard as hard as you guys do on the field to close these loopholes," Siegelman told the football team. "If the Legislature doesn’t get the job done in this session, I’m going to call them back." Siegelman said he will not support a plan that uses oil and gas royalties to make up the $160 million shortfall because it would require a constitutional amendment and a vote of the people ­ would happen too late to halt cuts this year.

"We can’t spend the money now and we can’t even budget the money now," he said.