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Alabama’s Budgetary Quandary

By Sen. Paul Sanford (R-Huntsville)

In today’s financial state of affairs, Alabamians are being told the State General Fund budget hinges on the passage of the upcoming September 18th Constitutional Amendment. Doom and gloom are being served up like turkey and dressing around the Thanksgiving dinner table.  We have once again been offered a one-time solution to a multi-generational problem – take from future generations in order to pay for our current expenditures.

Sounds like Washington, DC to me. “Not on my watch,” says this State Senator. Alabama has a structural problem of not providing growth revenues to the State General Fund Budget, which funds all government outside of education. For decades the education budget has dominated the lions share of growth tax revenues. At the same time, the General Fund hasn’t grown, and if something does not change soon, Medicaid & Corrections will suffocate that entire budget. This is why the September constitutional amendment stands before us.

In order to really fix the underlying problem, we must rethink the paradigm of compartmentalizing specific revenues for specific projects or agencies.  Instead, we should budget based on priorities, needs, and impact. Vital functions of government should be identified and our citizens assured that those vital services will be funded first. It is past time that we have some form of a unified budget that offers growth potential for these vital functions of government.

What I am proposing is combining all state revenues into one budgetary fund and then use a protected “Ratio Formula” to distribute the monies throughout state government – the majority to education and the remainder to all else. Historically the Education Trust Fund budget has used 77% of the discretionary funds the Legislature is mandated to budget while the General Fund receives 23% of the discretionary funds.

If we keep those ratios in place in through my proposal, education dollars will be protected while we offer increased revenues for agencies traditionally funded via the General Fund budget. The revenues received by the education budget have increased at a much higher and consistent rate than the revenues in the General Fund, hence the need to combine the revenues and share the growth potential with all functions of government.

In my proposed change, the revenues are combined and unearmarked, thus forcing each government program or agency to then justify their existence and viability.  Couple this proposal with the measures currently being undertaken by the Legislature to streamline our state government and bring about internal efficiencies, and we may have a long-term solution to our state’s fiscal situation.

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I believe we have an unprecedented opportunity to reshape the future of Alabama for generations to come. However, only a NO vote on the September 18th constitutional amendment will force the debate on this much-needed change in the way Alabama makes budgets for our future generations.

Why should we burden the next generation of Alabama workers with a full ten-year repayment plan for three years of partial spending?  We have the opportunity to enhance our future in Alabama with a realistic solution to our budget quandary.

Which future will you vote for on September 18th, one with “debt and burden” or one of “fiscal restraint and responsibility”?

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