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Education budget unwise decision

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,

approach.

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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