Amendment one is first step to helping education

Republican candidate for lieutenant governor and current state Sen. Bill Armistead has called the proposed &uot;rainy day account&uot; amendment, which will appear on the June 4 primary ballot, &uot;a step in the right direction.&uot;

The proposal will appear on the ballot as Proposed Statewide Amendment One (l).

Armistead said passage of the measure &uot;should provide some insurance against future proration of the education budget.&uot;

&uot;For years, Alabama has struggled with unpredictable economic forecasts causing education funding to fall and disrupt our public schools.

&uot;The reason for this is simple. Public education in Alabama is primarily funded by the state income tax &045; both corporate and personal &045; and the sales tax.

&uot;Obviously, when the economy slows down or goes into a recession, programs dependent on tax collections will receive less money,&uot; he said.

Armistead said based on past experience, one sure way to avoid having the education budget prorated in the future is to limit spending to the prior year’s income.

&uot;Unfortunately, the governor and legislature have a habit of writing the education budget for more than the prior year’s amount because it is based on expected revenue growth from a growing economy,&uot; he said. &uot;If the economy falters, then the education budget is in the tank, and the governor has to declare proration.&uot;

Armistead said after years of having the proposal killed by the Democratic leadership and by then lieutenant governor and current Gov. Don Siegelman, the Alabama Legislature successfully passed the proposed constitutional amendment during a special session last year.

Armistead acknowledged that he was not a sponsor of the bill that came out of the House on the amendment.

And while he said he had reservations about taking money out of the Alabama Trust Fund for any purpose,

he said he felt it was for the greater good.

&uot;If this one-time transfer can prevent schools from having their budget prorated, then it will be worth it,&uot; he said.

Armistead said should voters approve the amendment, beginning Oct. 1, 2002, 6 percent of this year’s Special Education Trust Fund budget will be appropriated into the new Education Trust Fund Rainy Day Account.

He said the one-time seed money, amounting to some $250 million, will be taken from the oil and gas funds in the Alabama Trust Fund.

Armistead explained that the amendment provides that the fund can only be tapped if the governor certifies to the state comptroller and to the Alabama Legislature that the education budget will have to be cut (or prorated) because of falling education revenues.

Then, he said, only the amount matching the anticipated shortfall can be transferred to public education to prevent budget cuts.

&uot;Further, the amendment specially mandates that the Alabama Legislature replenish the ‘rainy day’ fund to its original amount within five years of withdrawing money to help schools stay afloat,&uot; Armistead said.

&uot;The Legislature will have to get serious about finding a mechanism to fund this ‘rainy day’ fund in the future. We cannot continue to borrow from the future to fund education in Alabama.

&uot;If properly set up and maintained, this amendment could bring stability to education funding in Alabama. Just as families put aside money to help them in an emergency, the ‘rainy day’ fund will provide a pool of money to smoothen the peaks and valleys of the economic cycle.&uot;

Armistead said he believes the time has come for Alabama to do something about this continuing problem.

&uot;I think it is time we set up a safety net for our schoolchildren. Amendment one will do this. Our children deserve better than having to suffer from cutbacks and shortages every time the state hits an economic pothole.&uot;

Armistead would not predict passage or failure of the measure. However, he said he believed it will pass.

&uot;My gut feeling is people really want to do whatever they can to keep from going into proration.&uot;