GOV. ROBERT Bentley likes to talk about how he “connects” with the people of Alabama and how that connection won him the governor’s seat.
This year, he’s going to need all the voter connections he can make if he hopes to head off a budget catastrophe in fiscal 2013.
To ease what may be a $400 million or more shortfall in the General Fund, Gov. Bentley suggests that legislators un-earmark some funds in the Education Trust Fund or perhaps even combine the two funds. This would require a constitutional amendment, which takes legislative action as well as a favorable vote of the people.
To win voter confidence, Gov. Bentley could explain that Alabama is out of sync with the rest of the nation in the large percentage of education dollars it earmarks. Indeed, the state is No. 1 — but not in a good way.
The heavy earmarking is a sign that voters don’t trust their legislators to do the right thing when it comes to the schools.
However, the state’s dire budget situation, especially for 2013, demands that legislators have more flexibility in determining how tax dollars are spent.
Granting them that flexibility may actually be possible now that earmarking’s biggest supporter, the Alabama Education Association, no longer wields the power it once enjoyed in the Legislature.