Educator: ‘Any tax they can pass’ is OK

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 26, 2001

Staff Writer

Herbert Reynolds, president of the Pike County Board of Education, is pleased the Alabama Legislature found a way to come up with $160 million for public schools and colleges ­ even if that means a new tax on cell phone usage.

"I’m glad they did their jobs so we wouldn’t be facing a second year of proration," Reynolds said.

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In February, Gov. Don Siegelman declared proration of the Education Trust Fund budget, making the impact on the county schools system a cut of about $800,000 from the 4.13 percent proration. Add another $163,324 hit to transportation funds and it’s the equivalent of $1 million.

Troy State University alone was forced to deal with a 6.2 percent tuition increase, the lowest increase in the state this year, according to Dr. Doug Patterson, vice chancellor at TSU.

According to a report released by the Southern Regional Education Board, per-student funding has fallen dramatically over the last four years. Per-student funding in Alabama fell $906 from 1995 to 2000, one of the largest declines in the region.

"Knowing the situation our schools are in, any tax they can pass, I’m for it," Reynolds said.

The Alabama Legislature included a new cell phone tax as part of a package of bills designed to raise $160 million for education funding. Gov. Don Siegelman had vetoed the 6 percent tax on cell phones, but the lawmakers overrode his veto during the recent special session.

Reynolds said taxing cell phones is an "untapped source" and he would like to see taxes on such things as the Internet put money into the Education Trust Fund.

"I do think there’s more to be done so we can prevent this from happening again."

If lawmakers had not been successful during the special-called session, public education faced proration of about 5 percent more in the next fiscal year.

According to State Superintendent of Education Dr. Ed Richardson, flexibility bills passed earlier this year had saved more than 2,000 education employees’ jobs.

The reality of the schools’ fiscal crisis was undisputed, and only the details of how to raise the needed funds were the focus of debate, Richardson said.

Not everyone is as pleased with the decision to create a consumer tax.

"I think we’re taxed enough," said Troy resident Wayne Harrelson. "We needed to vote the lottery in and take some of this off us, but all the do-gooder Christians didn’t want it. Let them pay the taxes now."

Harrelson does not have a cell phone.

Yolanda Arnold agreed with the tax after she found out it was going to be channeled to education.

"I think they should’ve taxed cell phones, as long as it is for education," she said. "The lottery would have been a good source of money for education though."

On the other extreme of the spectrum, some people were please with the decision as an alternative to the lottery.

"Well, if it’s going for education, it’s worth it," said Charles Gorey, a DARE officer at Highland Homes School. "As long as it’s ear-marked for just education, it’s a better idea than gambling and cigarette taxes."

"As long as they don’t get crazy with it, it’s worth it," Gorey said as his cell phone hung loosely on his hip.

As a DARE officer, Gorey teaches fifth- graders about the dangers of drugs and violence.

However, many people share a complacent attitude about the new tax.

"I don’t pay my bill anyways, so I don’t care," Princess Gates of Orlando said. "I am in school though, so I can appreciate it."

"I don’t care," Waylon Cousins said. "I don’t mind paying a few extra dollars."

"As long as it goes for education, I don’t mind," Samantha Dunn said. "If it was going for a pay increase for the governor, I wouldn’t like that at all."