One doesn’t realize the complexity of the budget process until one has experienced it and it is an especially challenging process for the budget chairs. However, I along with others in the legislature am troubled with the process in recent years resulting in the budgets being passed very late in the session. To this end I filed SJR 10 today reaffirming our commitment to the spirit and intent of the budget process and the BIR – the Bill Isolation Resolution – based on a 1984 Amendment to the Alabama Constitution. The SJR was introduced and sent to the Rules Committee for further consideration before being brought before the full Senate for a vote. I will continue to report on the progress in the days ahead and encourage readers to review the SJR as it contains some historical background. I believe this will all become relevant later in the session.
Now, back to the normal blog format: I started this morning with a 0700 interview on the Dale Jackson Show on WVNN. I appreciate Dale reaching out to area legislators and allowing us to communicate with his listening audience. I believe in transparency and an informed public and Dale (and Jason, his producer) do a great job of connecting legislators with the public so that we can help keep them informed.
I arrived at the State House for a 0800 meeting prior to back to back committee meetings commencing at 0830.
The Education Policy Committee was first; we held public hearings on two bills and are scheduled to vote on these bills next week. I am the sponsor of SB54, the Local School Flexibility Act (read more on the home page) that has garnered widespread support. I was proud to have Huntsville City Superintendent Dr. Casey Wardensky, along with the superintendents of Jefferson County and Florence city speak in support of this important legislation. I will also share that I’ve heard from several educators who had concerns with some areas of the bill and, after reading the sections from their perspective, am happy to report that we will amend those sections of the legislation. This reinforces the importance of building trusting relationships and communicating with stakeholders. I will provide a full update on this legislation in an upcoming blog once the revised bill becomes available. I appreciate the widespread support this bill has received and will continue to work to empower the local school boards – with direct influence from the public (parents, students and teachers) – to make decisions at the local level, influencing student outcomes and maximizing the use of available resources.
My next committee meeting was the General Fund Committee. We worked through several bills today. Of note, a bill returning property tax appraisals to the four year cycle vs. the one year cycle passed committee. This was changed several years ago – back in the hay-day of booming real estate. I support that the four year cycle serves to smooth the increase and will benefit tax payers while having minimal, if any impact on state revenues.
The bill to repay the $437M borrowed from Alabama Trust Fund through the September 18th Referendum also passed committee. The bill would require a payback over 10 years in a defined schedule and we may pay the loan back sooner should funds become available. It is important to note that in what I call - “We’ve Inherited the Sins of our Fathers” - we have substantial debts remaining to be repaid on top of what may be borrowed from the Trust Fund through the September 18th Referendum. The legislature borrowed $161M for the General Fund in 2010 that must be paid back by 2020 and, most concerning, the legislature borrowed $437M for the Education Trust Fund in 2009 that must be paid back by 2015. Note, both of these borrowing arrangements were made under a Democrat controlled legislature with no defined repayment schedule...and we can see how that has worked out as we still owe over $420M of the $437M borrowed five years ago. Bottom line, we need to make decisions today that will reduce the future amount borrowed and therefore reduce the amount that must be repaid as opposed to kicking the can further down the road.
There was other action today – the House Education Policy Committee passed the House version of the Flex Bill, the Senate went into session so that bills passed in committee today could receive a second reading, and I participated in the Commerce, Transportation and Utilities committee meeting late this afternoon, but I’m going to wrap the blog up here as the night is getting long and I have a 0630 radio interview on The Morning Show with Toni and Gary on WPHB, followed by a 0830 February Contract Review meeting. I have about 50 state contracts to review prior to tomorrow’s meeting; some light bedtime reading!
Semper Fi - Bill