Proration Maybe on the Way

By Eileen Jones - bio | email

Alabama's school superintendents are watching their bottom line closely but they may not be able to avoid proration and if it happens the Governor may have no choice but to step in and take action. But, he may not have a possible solution until the voters head to the polls in November.

In other words, when voters go to the polls in a little more than seven weeks, they will find more than just the candidates' names on the ballot. There will also be an amendment to create a rainy day fund for the state's general fund budget and expand one for the education budget.

However, Tim James opposes the amendment. "It does put a mechanism in place where they can borrow money from a trust that's set aside for our children and our grandchildren."

Superintendent of Schools Joe Morton says the state has to have it. "Our children and our grandchildren need the best education today."

The money would come from a plan set up by James' father Fob James when he was governor. His idea was to let the state use only the  interest from the oil and gas wells and leave the principal alone. The amendment would allow the state to borrow from that fund and pay it back over six years.

However, James  doesn't trust that the legislature will do that. "What about if the money is not there? Where are you going to get the money? You're going to raise taxes in five years to do it? If not, do it today."

But Morton says there will are guarantees it will be paid back. "It would be there because that pay back would have to come off the top."

Most of the money for schools comes from sales and income taxes, and right now Morton  says the state's in a slump. "We are not growing at a rate if it carries over into October and November and December of this coming fiscal year. It's not at a rate to meet the budget which means we'll be in proration."

But, James still thinks the legislature should leave the trust fund alone. "If they want to be intellectually honest, raise taxes on the people of this state but don't raid the trust fund."

Right now, there are two rainy day funds for education. With one of them, also called the proration prevention account, the money has been used up to prevent proration this year. And, Morton says there's not enough money in the other one to make it through the next fiscal year which begins in October. That's why he says he wants it expanded.

In order for the Governor to use any money from that second rainy day account, also called the constitutional rainy day account, the Governor has to first declare proration before the state can borrow money from it.