Lawmakers: Budget not perfect, but good

Published 9:40 pm Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Alabama Legislature passed the state’s education trust fund and general fund operating budgets for fiscal year 2012 – budgets, which lawmakers characterize as the best possible budgets considering current economic circumstances.”

Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, said in light of the budgets passing, he was “thrilled” for Alabama’s hard-working teachers.

“No budget bill is perfect, but I think the Republican leadership has done an excellent job of balancing the budget in a tremendously challenging economic situation,” Taylor said. “I’m absolutely thrilled that we cut out some substantial wasteful spending and were able to fund legitimate priorities, including providing money for classroom supplies for teachers.”

The education budget has within it a provision allocating $134 per teacher per classroom, for kindergarten through 12th grade, which goes directly toward classroom materials and supplies.

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“As I said during my campaign, teachers shouldn’t have to come out of their own pockets to pay for needed classroom supplies,” Taylor said. “Helping to restore this funding for teachers was one of my top priorities, and I appreciate the hard work of my colleagues in both houses who helped put this budget together.”

Taylor said there is an increase of a couple percentage points in the education budget from state spending this year, which represents growth in state revenues for education.

However, Taylor said the state recently lost $680 million in federal stimulus money.

“While it looks like we’re actually increasing spending on education, we’ve actually had to make significant cuts because of the loss of that federal funding,” Taylor said.

One report highlights expenditures from the trust fund based on the Legislature’s education budget: $3.62 billion, an increase of $174.6 million, 5.1 percent, for the Foundation program for public kindergarten through 12th grade; $1.04 billion for public universities, an increase of $51.4 million, 5.2 percent, from this year; and $320.1 million for the public two-year college system, a decrease of $1.9 million, 0.6 percent, from this year.

Concerns have been raised regarding the potential adverse effects on non-educational agencies, but Taylor said during these economic times tough decisions still have to be made.

“Anytime you have a tough economic crisis, we have to make very difficult decisions across the board, across all of state government to curb wasteful spending, to eliminate waste and abuse and that’s what this debate has been about,” Taylor said. “The highlights of the education budget for me are that we have dramatically cut out wasteful pork spending, we’ve restored funding to teachers for classroom materials and supplies and we have prioritized programs that are actually improving student performance, such as the Alabama Reading Initiative and the Alabama Math and Science Technology Initiative.”

Rep. Alan Boothe, R-Troy, shared Taylor’s enthusiasm about the passing budgets.

“I feel comfortable with it,” Boothe said. “While we did have to do some cuts, I think that given the circumstances, under today’s economy, this is the best we could hope for.”

Boothe said the general fund is not in as good a shape as the education budget, because they “just didn’t have the funds.”

“We will continue to work to try to alleviate any problems and build up the general fund as much as we can,” Boothe said. “We’ll continue to monitor that and try the best we can with it. The budget that has gone to the governor is as good as we can possibly do based on the economic conditions in the times that we have.”

Boothe said some programs were completely eliminated, echoing Taylor about the loss of federal stimulus money.

“We didn’t have the stimulus money to rely on, but there were still some things we were able to cut out. It’s all about trying to maintain jobs,” Boothe said. “We’re trying to keep jobs. We’ve had to cut, but we’re trying the best we can to save as many jobs as we possibly can based on these hard economic times.”

Boothe said, for now, the Legislature has to make decisions that are within Alabama’s means.

“We just don’t have the money. We’re in an economic downturn,” Boothe said. “When the funds get back, things will start getting better. In the meantime, we’ve got to live within our means, or at least try to live within our means and do the best we can with the amount of money we’ve got in our budget.”