Jul
30
2015

Robbing Our Children Is Not The Answer

The crisis in the General Fund budget has dominated lawmakers’ focus this year, and for good reason. But one proposed solution that continues to come up, and it would be devastating for Alabama.

State Sen. Paul Bussman (R-Cullman) has introduced a bill to combine the General Fund and Education Trust Fund budgets. In the past, I argued that all that would do is spread the General Fund’s problems to our public schools. And while that is still very true, there’s another important reason why we don’t need to combine the budgets.

Even though the Education Trust Fund (ETF) isn’t in as much trouble as the General Fund doesn’t mean that the ETF is out of the woods.

Since 2008, Alabama has cut per student funding for k-12 schools by more than 20 percent, according to the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. That means Alabama is spending $1,242 less per student than we were before the recession. At the same time, funding for post-secondary schools (i.e., community colleges and universities) has been cut by more than 35 percent!

What do those spending cuts look like in the real world?

A perfect example is the Russellville City Schools Rocketry Team. These kids, some of whom are only 13 years old, just came back from the Paris Air Show in France where they won the international rocketry competition. They aren’t just national champions. They are international champions.

And do you know how much funding they received from the state? Zero.

These kids had to raise the money on their own to compete in their competitions. And on top of that, they had to spend hundreds of hours over the last year working in a building that had no heating or air conditioning.

So when some legislators start talking about a “surplus” in the education budget, keep in mind that that doesn’t mean the education budget has money to give away. It just means we collected more money than we budget to spend. And there are very real needs in education where that money needs to be spent.

Unfortunately, some legislators have forgotten that. They would rather take even more money away from our children’s education than let the people vote on a lottery and gambling, or make tough choices about budget cuts and tax increases.

After more than 20 percent cuts in k-12 and more than 35 percent cuts in post-secondary education, the answer isn’t taking more money away from education. If anything, we should be putting more money into education!

If we did, it would help the General Fund in the long run. The General Fund’s biggest expenditures are prisons and Medicaid. People who are better educated are less likely to make choices that land them in jail, and are also more likely to make better health choices.

And after years of asking educators and state employees to do more with less and for less money, it is long-past time that we give our educators and state employees a pay raise instead of balancing the budgets on their backs.

But our current leadership has not supported public education. Their signature policies, like the Accountability Act and charter schools, only undermine public education and set it up to fail.

And that’s why I’m not surprised that some of them now see combining the budgets as the solution to the General Fund’s crisis. But robbing our children is not-and never will be-the answer!

Furthermore, combining the budgets has the same problem that gambling has with getting us out of this crisis, because it would require a constitutional amendment voted on by the people in a special election. That means the quickest we could start transferring money out of the ETF would be the spring of 2016.

If we were going to do that, then why not let the people vote on a lottery and gambling bill instead? We could start receiving money from gambling just as quickly, plus it wouldn’t take anything away from public education.

There’s a reason Alabama keeps education funding separate from everything else: to protect our schools from being raided every time the General Fund gets in trouble. And even with that protection, education has still been gutted over the last few years.

Just because the ETF has a surplus this year doesn’t mean it has more money than it needs. That surplus needs to be spent on education, like it was intended to be. What it doesn’t need to be is a bailout for politicians who would rather take money away from our children’s education than have to make tough decisions.

Robbing our children is not-and never will be-the answer!

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Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.

Jul
24
2015

House Democrats Reach Out To Republican Leadership To Solve Budget Crisis

For Immediate Release: July 24, 2015

Montgomery, AL – Democrats in the Alabama House of Representatives are reaching out to the legislature’s Republican leadership in an attempt to develop a bi-partisan solution to the state’s budget crisis.

The House Democratic Caucus has invited Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, and House Ways and Means – General Fund Committee Chairman Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, to meet with the Democratic Caucus next week to discuss the Republican Caucus’ proposals to address the shortfall in the General Fund budget and to find a bipartisan solution.

“We’re reaching out to the leadership in the Republican Party,” said House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden. “We’ve asked Speaker Hubbard and Chairman Clouse to come speak to the caucus and discuss their plan. We are trying to reach out to them.”

Though the Republican Party has a supermajority in both houses of the state legislature, legislators have not yet been able to reach any agreement on a solution to the budget crisis. With the October 1st deadline quickly approaching, it is becoming increasingly clear that any proposal will need Democrats’ support in order to pass.

“It seems pretty clear that the legislature is still divided,” said Ford. “They need our help, and Democrats want to be part of the solution. That’s why we have reached out to them. Time is running out, and the time for partisanship is over.”

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Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and has served as House Minority Leader since 2010.

Jul
21
2015

The “Element of Surprise” is Just Another Game

Two weeks ago, Gov. Bentley surprised everyone when he called the special legislative session. Legislators had expected the governor to wait until mid-August to call the session, but the governor said he wanted to use “the element of surprise” and take pressure off legislators over the gambling issue.

The people of Alabama expect their leaders to work together, and Gov. Bentley’s use of “the element of surprise,” as he chose to put it, is not in the spirit of that. The reason this crisis wasn’t solved during the regular legislative session is because House and Senate Republicans wouldn’t work together, and neither of them wanted to work with the governor. Legislators and the governor need to be able to work together during this special session, and that can’t happen when state leaders decide to play political games.

The “element of surprise” is something you use against an enemy or competitor. This is not the military fighting in a war! This is the elected leadership of Alabama, and it costs the taxpayers a lot of money for the legislature to come back to Montgomery! The people expect their elected leaders to work together to solve problems, not to use “the element of surprise” for political posturing.

What has this accomplished? No bills have been passed or even introduced in the House. If legislators had reached an agreement and were ready to come back, then the House and Senate wouldn’t have adjourned on the first day and planned not to come back until the first week of August.

The problems don’t end there. By law, the special session has to end by August 11th. That means that if a solution isn’t agreed to by then, the legislature will have to come back for yet another special session, costing the taxpayers even more money!

And instead of ending the talk about gambling, the gambling debate has caught its second wind! The Poarch Creek Indians have been airing TV ads throughout the state promoting a compact, Sen. Marsh has already re-introduced his gambling bill and I will also be reintroducing my lottery bill.

The governor is wrong to attempt to exclude gambling from the call for the special session. The people should have the right to choose between taxing gambling and the creation of a lottery versus the Republican’s tax package. At the very least, we could at least pass a lottery bill in time to get in on the ballots for next years elections!

Depending on how quickly legislators acted, it could take up to two years from the time a lottery bill gets passed until the state really starts receiving revenue from it. It could also happen much quicker than that if legislators were motivated. But either way, the longer we take to pass a bill, the longer we delay seeing the benefits from it.

I believe a good gambling bill could get us out of this year’s fiscal crisis without raising taxes. But even if we couldn’t get it done in time to help this year, passing a gambling bill this year could prevent more tax increases and budget cuts next year.

But instead of taxing gambling, the Republican leadership seems intent on raising taxes. One of the governor’s proposed tax increases is the elimination of FICA deductions, which would include taxing what you pay into Medicare and Social Security. And Gov. Bentley is not the only one pushing for this—some senate Republicans have sponsored a “flat tax” bill that would eliminate ALL tax deductions.

You’ve paid taxes all your life, and now they want to tax you to your grave!

The Republican Tax Package is not just a set of taxes on the wealthy. These are taxes on every family in the state: Eliminating your FICA deduction, raising taxes on bottled water and soft drinks, taxing e-cigarettes that people use to quit smoking, and trying to take money away from our children’s education by transferring it out of the education budget and into the General Fund. Earlier this year, House Republicans even proposed a massive tax increase on lube oils used in manufacturing, farming and the motor oil you put in your car.

Raising taxes is not the answer, and playing games and using “the element of surprise” is silly and counterproductive. It’s time to for our state leaders to work together instead of treating each other and the people of Alabama like the enemy!

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Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.

Jul
17
2015

ALABAMA’S JORDAN COZBY ELECTED NATIONAL CHAIR OF THE HIGH SCHOOL DEMOCRATS OF AMERICA

For Immediate Release: July 17, 2015

WASHINGTON–The High School Democrats of America met over the past week in Washington D.C. to elect their leadership for the upcoming school year. Their five-member executive board will be led by Jordan Cozby, a rising senior at Bob Jones High School in Madison, Ala.

“This organization has undergone tremendous growth over the past year, and I’m honored that students across the nation have chosen this great team to continue its progress leading into a critical election year,” Cozby said.

The High School Democrats of America consists of over 500 chapters across the country that work together to advocate for progressive policies and elect Democrats on all levels.

Students met in Washington, D.C. for a strategic summit, an opportunity to learn about the political process and activate their peers to make a difference in local communities, state governments, and national issues.

“Our biggest goal is to ensure new students are getting involved in the Democratic Party and taking its values into their communities. We understand that building the bench for future elections will be critical to a viable and successful Democratic Party, and we know that starts with young people taking the lead,” Cozby said.

Trenton Thornburg of Oklahoma is the organization’s outgoing chair, and he says he has “full confidence” in Cozby’s leadership.

“When you grow an organization of this caliber, you always want to be looking at who takes the reins when you move on—I couldn’t imagine a more capable, passionate and energetic leader than Jordan,” Thornburg said.

The five-member executive board will also include Liana Wang of Texas as executive vice president, Sedalia Mahlum of North Dakota as programs director, Hattie Seton of South Dakota as communication director and Logan Arkema of Michigan as development director.

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The High School Democrats of America are an independent youth advocacy group and are not affiliated with the Democratic National Committee or the Young Democrats of America. For more information about the High School Democrats of America, please visit their website at www.hsdems.org.