In a speech at the Birmingham Kiwanis Club last week, Governor Bentley told attendees that he plans to push for a constitutional amendment that would merge the state’s education trust fund and general fund into a single, unified state coffer. Currently, the state’s education trust fund is separate from the general fund, which pays for other state expenses like Medicaid and prisons. Bentley’s merger plan aims to free up some of the money earmarked specifically for education and use it to fill the state’s general fund deficit.
According to the Associated Press, Alabama has the highest percentage of tax revenue constitutionally earmarked for a specific purpose. These earmarks have made it difficult for the state to shore up the general fund, which faces a $400 million shortfall next year. Currently, state income and sales taxes are earmarked solely for education expenses. By merging the education fund with the general fund, Bentley plans to use revenue from these two “growth taxes” to balance the state’s general budget.
It is uncertain whether Bentley’s plan will be implemented. To take effect, it must be passed in the House and Senate, and then ratified by the public in a constitutional referendum. According to the Montgomery Advertiser, two Alabama governors – George Wallace and Fob James – have led unsuccessful attempts to merge the two funds.
Already, a number of detractors have spoken out against the plan, with many framing the debate in terms of “students versus prisoners.” Others remain concerned that, if the two funds are merged, the state’s education budget will continue to be short-changed. State Rep. John Merrill, R-Tuscaloosa, told the Tuscaloosa News, “I’m against it. There are some people who think that if money leaves education, it will never be returned.”