Education budget unwise decision
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 20, 2002
Sometimes we question the wisdom of election-year politics.
Take, for instance, two bills pending before the Alabama Senate. The first, a $1.9 billion general fund budget, is being revised to include a 3
percent cost of living raise for state employees ­ a $40 million expense, a
third of which must come from the general fund budget.
The second, a $4.2 billion education budget that also includes 3 percent cost
of living raises for primary and secondary teachers, as well as faculty at
two-year colleges. For this expense, the money comes from cuts in
expenditures for textbooks, maintenance, unspecified education funds and more.
Both these pay raises are well-intentioned and, well, quite popular among the
voters. In fact, the Alabama Education Association, one of the state’s most
powerful lobbying groups, supports the teacher pay raises.
There’s only one problem: We can’t afford either raise. Alabama is a state strapped for revenue. We’ve forced our schools into
proration – through unwise spending and shrinking tax revenues. We’ve taxed
cell phones to help offset education costs. We struggle to fund economic
development and advancement programs. And leaders across the state are
calling for major reforms of our tax structure.
Yet, our lawmakers want to give state employees and teachers pay raises this
year. And that frustrates us.
We all know that if lawmakers ran the state government with the same sense of
stewardship and ownership they would have with their own business, they
wouldn’t be granting raises when revenues are scarce. They’d offer empathy; a
sincere pat on the back; and an honest pledge to make the business – the government – more fiscally responsible so they would be able to grant raises.
Instead, it seems our lawmakers are going for the popular, if shortsighted,
And that means, once election season has passed, we’re likely to be talking
about cutbacks and proration, once again.
We certainly wish our lawmakers had the vision – the fortitude – to look
past the ballot and focus on the budget.
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