More funding woes

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 27, 2002

BNI Newswire

Accountability demands from the public on the Alabama Legislature are being hamstrung by the earmarking of almost nine-tenths of the funds handled by state government, according to one local senator.

"It’s almost like having a noose around our neck," said state Sen. Ted Little, D-Auburn. "The situation where more than 90 percent of the money we have is tied to programs is inflexible and makes the situation we have with the budget all the more worse to have to deal with."

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Little said the problem he has with earmarking so much state money leaves the Senate and House little room to shift resources to help agencies in need.

Little said the dilemma arises because raising taxes to support state services is not popular with voters and not likely from an election year legislative agenda. At the same time, citizens want accountability and services, but most of the money that could be shifted to help agencies in need is legally tied to other programs.

"When it all said and done, what earmarking in the extreme does is build a sense of mistrust that the Legislature is not capable of doing what is in the best interest of the state," Little said. "And the earmarking cannot be changed without the will of the people, so once it is in place it is hard to remove."

Little is among those who have expressed concern about earmarking Alabama’s tax revenues to programs. Long-time political columnist Bob Ingram, who recently visited Alexander City to talk about state issues at a retirees gathering, said the policy is one of the most restrictive in the nation.

"Alabama earmarks most of its money as a way of making sure programs get funding every year," Ingram said. "But when so much of that money is set aside that agencies are literally withering on the vine, then there are problems."

Rep. Betty Carol Graham, D-Alexander City, said recently that she sees earmarking of state monies as a double-edged sword.

"There are those that purport we earmark too much," Graham said. "But if money was not earmarked for educational or government needs, how would you (budget) for the next year? Still, I think there’s some built-in deficit with earmarking."

Little contends his biggest problem with earmarking is that there is the potential for money to be tied to outdated programs.

"If we have an outdated or ineffective program, the money will keep going to that program unless there is a change to the Constitution and that can take a long time," Little said. "That being the case, money that could be used to benefit programs for schools or the elderly would still be funneled into something that might not be helping anyone."