Gulf Coast oil spill causing state education trust fund to suffer

State Superintendent of Education Joe Morton said at a June 10 press conference that the massive oil spill in the Gulf Coast is having a strong negative impact on the state’s Education Trust Fund.

The Education Trust Fund, which is made up of 10 different taxes collected at the state level, is suffering because tax revenues are down along Alabama’s Gulf Coast, Morton said.

“As tourism diminishes along Alabama’s Gulf Coast, as the seafood industry is crippled due to the ‘no-fishing’ areas of the Gulf of Mexico, as oyster and shrimping areas are decimated by the oil spill, tax receipts to the (Education Trust Fund) will suffer,” Morton said.

Morton said he would charge the BP oil company with making up the lost revenues in the Education Trust Fund. He plans to hire economic experts from outside the state Department of Education to work with Craig Pouncey, Assistant State Superintendent with the Division of Administrative and Financial services, to develop an “irrefutable” bill of lost revenues, which will then be sent to BP.

“Should this method of restoring lost funds to the (Education Trust Fund) be challenged or rebuffed by BP, I will institute a court action against BP on behalf of the 745,046 school-aged students in Alabama’s public schools to ensure all lost tax receipts are recovered and placed properly in the Education Trust Fund of Alabama’s as quickly as possible,” Morton said.

BP spokesperson Ray Melick said Morton’s claims would fall under the company’s government claims process, which is handling claims by local governments incurring costs because of the oil spill.

“All claims by local government entities will be handled by a specialized team and will be given a high priority,” Melick said. “Of course, for claims of this type, specific supporting documentation, explanation and description would be needed to prove the claim is in direct connection with the Deepwater Horizon incident.”

Morton said it’s essential BP take responsibility for such lost revenues, and the Alabama Department of Education plans to push BP to accept that responsibility.

“The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is wreaking havoc on our environment and Gulf Coast economy,” Morton said. “We cannot allow it to also undermine our public schools by reducing the very tax receipts that pay our teachers’ salaries and help our classrooms keep the learning environment alive daily.”

The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, leased by BP, exploded April 20. Thousands of gallons have been expended each day since then.