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Over a month ago I wrote about the $1.3 billion Education Trust Fund (ETF) supplemental appropriation bill being considered by the Alabama House of Representatives. It was a bad bill then, but now the Alabama Senate has gone and made it even worse.
Taxpayers shouldn’t stand for it.
House Bill 138 took nearly all the education budget’s $1.3 billion revenue surplus, extra money taxed from citizens, and put it back into 2022 spending. Over half of the surplus was allocated towards one-time capital and technology projects. Even if you support using taxpayer money for that, a large portion of those projects could be completed with federal stimulus dollars already received by the state.
Lawmakers passed the ETF supplemental appropriation 98-2, nearly unanimously declaring that the government is more valuable than the people it is supposed to serve.
In passing the supplemental bill, the House all but guaranteed that there would be no tax relief for citizens, no relief from record-high gas prices and inflation, and no chance of meaningful school choice legislation passing this session. At best, the bill showed that lawmakers are completely tone-deaf to the limited government principles that many Alabamians support. At worst it was a blatant betrayal of Alabama taxpayers.
However, the bill did have at least one fiscally responsible provision when House Ways and Means Education Committee Chairman Danny Garrett (R-Trussville) presented it. Specifically, Garrett’s version of the bill set aside $200 million to pay off a portion of the ETF’s existing debt.
Not a huge victory for taxpayers in the scope of a $1.3 billion bill, but at least it was something positive in an otherwise terrible example of government overreach.
But now even that small victory is gone. Last week the Senate passed a revised version of the ETF supplemental bill. While the total price tag remains the same, that $200 million that would have gone towards debt repayment is gone.
It appears that Senate Finance and Taxation Education Chairman Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) wasn’t satisfied with only spending $1.1 billion of your money and using the rest to repay debt. He wanted more.
You’re probably wondering, what is the extra $200 million in spending going towards? It’s going towards more limited scope projects from which most Alabamians will never directly benefit.
Orr’s revised bill would send over $104 million more to the ETF’s Advancement and Technology Fund, bringing total funding for one-time school construction and technology projects to almost $757 million this year. Again, some Alabamians may support additional funding for capital projects, but why use taxpayer money when many of these projects could likely be funded through the $4.5 billion in federal education stimulus payments already received by the state?
An extra $13 million would go towards the ETF budget stabilization fund, which is designed to protect the budget against future economic downturns. While this may seem like a prudent use of money, why is the legislature spending all the $1.3 billion surplus if lawmakers think there is a risk of a downturn in the near future?
Orr’s bill also includes a $15 million increase ($45 million total) for the Southern Research Institute, which will go towards construction of a new facility for the non-profit organization, as well as $15 million more ($18 million total) for an engineering building project at the University of Alabama Huntsville.
Much of the remaining money would be doled out for building projects at universities, historical commissions and studio renovations at the Educational Television Commission, among others. One of the few bright spots is a meager $2.9 million allocation that would help with start-up costs of public charter schools.
Regardless of how the money will be spent, the overarching theme remains the same. The Alabama legislature is taking $1.3 billion of extra money that was taxed from citizens and is putting all of it back into government. One of the few good things about Rep. Garrett’s bill, $200 million in state debt reduction, is gone, replaced by more spending that will in no way provide the immediate economic relief that so many Alabamians need.
It is up to the House to reject the Senate changes to House Bill 138. Don’t make a bad bill even worse.
Justin Bogie serves as Senior Director of Fiscal Policy at the Alabama Policy Institute. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to: Commentary@1819News.com.