Historically, Alabama lawmakers have viewed windfalls as found money, taking unexpected revenue – usually federal dollars – and spending it in ways that blur the lines dictating how it should be used. The most recent example is the direction of hundreds of millions in federal COVID relief funds to a new prison construction project.
Now the state legislature has an enviable problem — $2.7 billion in excess revenue in the state’s Special Education Trust Fund.
When the legislature convenes in its regular session early next year, deciding what to do with the excess revenue will be at the top of the agenda. With a new Speaker of the House and finance committee chairs, leadership could be looking for ways to make their mark in a splashy fashion.
Barring well-conceived plans for programs that would improve the woeful performance of the state’s public schools, lawmakers should remember the source of excess revenue – Alabama’s taxpayers – and consider ways to return some or all of the money to the people of Alabama.
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In the state doesn’t have a dime of its own. It’s all the people’s money – education funds, general fund dollars, federal largesse; government money belongs to the people.
If revenue exceeds expenditures in a household budget, that’s wise planning. In government, however, it suggests that a correction may be in order.