Thursday, State Representative Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, told reporters: “I am very worried about our four-year universities.”
Poole is the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Education Committee that crafts that annual Education Trust Fund budgets (ETF).
The House passed a record ETF budget, HB187, one a 76 to 1 vote on Thursday. HB187 passed 76 to 1. Many House Democrats are choosing not to participate in the last week of the 2020 Legislative Session due to coronavirus fears.
While all the Universities got a boost in state support of two percent or more in this budget; Poole said that state support is only a portion of the universities’ income.
“I am hopeful and optimistic that they will be open in the fall,” Poole said. If they could not then the colleges and universities would lose revenue from tuition, dorm rentals, and meal plans.
The Alabama Political Reporter asked: The college and universities already lost all of their NCAA basketball tournament revenue for this year. If the state’s universities were not able to sell tickets during football season this year or were not able to play football at all that would be devastating to the university athletics departments. Is the legislature prepared to backstop athletic department budgets if that were to happen?
“We all know how significant that football is to our universities, our communities, and our economy,” Poole said. “If we loss football that is going to hurt. It would be a national issue.”
APR asked Poole if Congress was going to pass another coronavirus relief bill to make the state’s whole for their revenue losses due to the coronavirus.
Poole said that he did not know what Congress would do and it “Would be speculative” of him to make a prediction on that.
The ETF funds education. K-12 education, the state two-year college system, and higher education are all funded in the education budget. State income tax dollars are all earmarked for education. The ETF also collects some sales, use, and ad valorem taxes. The 2021 budget goes into effect on October 1.
The ETF has an increase of $90 million over the 2020 budget.
The 2021 ETF is $7,217,422,487, a $91,527,235 increase over the 2020 ETF. This is the largest education budget in state history: but is far less than what legislators expected in February when the legislative sessions began.
Poole acknowledged that under the present economic circumstances there are issues that could come up.
“We are in uncertain times so there are factors in future months that could change this,” Chairman Poole acknowledged.
Legislators dismissed any possibility that the 2021 budget would have to be prorated citing the money in the education rolling reserve.
“We are very fortunate,” Poole said due to the “Reforms” passed in 2011.
“We are in a remarkable position to weather the fiscal shock,” Poole explained.
Poole credited the Rolling Reserve Act of 2011 and “Appropriating less than our annual receipts,” for the state having reserves to cover for any anticipated 2021 shortfall.
The education budget now has to go to the Senate for their consideration.