State’s problems outweigh tax cost

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 8, 2003

The biggest misconception about Governor Bob Riley’s tax plan is that citizens of Alabama don’t understand the financial crisis the state is in, said Tommy Green of the Alabama Education Association.

Green serves as the AEA Uni-Serve Director for Marengo, Sumter, Dallas and Wilcox Counties. He can be seen regularly at all the board of education meetings in the county.

If Riley’s plan (Amendment One) does not pass September 9, Green sees a depressing scenario for education.

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The State Department of Education met last week. Robert Morton, assistant state superintendent of education, proposed $50 million be eliminated from the education budget, "and some of the cuts are drastic," Green said.

The impact of a no vote will be felt immediately. "There’s an old saying that ‘if the state gets a cold then the Black Belt gets pneumonia.’ In the Black Belt region you’re going to see it in epic proportions because most of the school systems don’t have the local funding to augment what the state sends down.

The Rainy Day Fund Account, passed by the Alabama Legislature this year, will help hire back employees, who were scheduled to be cut due to funding shortfalls. Six-thousand jobs in the state were saved, Green said. However, that fund is only enacted for Fiscal Year 2004.

He expects 6,000 to 8,000 jobs to be lost for the 2005 school year if a funding solution is not found.

Will extracurricular activities soon become a private function – if funding is not increased?

There was also talk of charging fees and assessments for all non-required school subjects, Green said. "If it’s not the basic four-by-four (math, science, English and social studies), they’re going to have to pay fees for that."

Parents are going to be asked to pay more and more by local school systems for their student’s education.

Also, Green wanted to stress that although two-thirds of Amendment One goes to education, it is also intended to fund nursing homes, state troopers, food for the elderly and needs of the corrections department.

Many anti-tax advocates say that funding for education is not guaranteed in Riley’s plan. "There are commitments in there of new dollars that are dedicated," he said. "It’s attached with the tax bills. There’s $120 million for college scholarships….There’s funds set aside for five additional school days (a cost of $12 to $15 million per day). The Reading and Math Initiatives, that they are totally going to fund, is going to hire approximately 1,500 teacher units.

There will be $8 to $10 million more for textbooks, and there’s already incentives for teachers going into areas of the state where it has been hard to recruit teachers, Green said.

If Amendment One is voted down September 9, there has been talk of a state sales tax. "They’re the most regressive type of taxes that you have. Everybody pays it, whether you make $10 a year or $10 million a year….Sales tax in Alabama is already some of the highest in the nation.

However, if the vote goes against Riley’s tax plan, Green believes that cuts are more likely than any other taxes. "Sales tax would be the last resort," he said.