State pays price for lack of preparedness

Published 5:51 pm Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Our country’s struggling economy affects every individual, business and government entity. The ones that will make it through are the ones that prepared for lean times.

Our state, unfortunately, was not one of those with foresight. State officials received news Monday — one day before the beginning of the Legislature’s regular session — of a sharp drop in school revenues.

“States alone cannot stimulate the national economy,” Gov. Bob Riley said Monday in a live interactive video exchange with select state high school students about Alabama’s need for money from a federal economic stimulus package. That conversation was a warm-up for yesterday’s State of the State speech, in which Riley made the point again.

While it’s obvious the national economy is making it hard on individual states, we’re not hearing every governor announce a dependency, as Riley has, on federal money to avoid widespread layoffs in public education.

We could discuss the merit of basing almost all education revenue on sales and income taxes — both of which are much more likely than property taxes to fluctuate with the economy — but that’s for another editorial.

So, of course, it’s not all Riley’s fault. There’s plenty of blame to go around in this situation. Not a little of that blame can be placed on state lawmakers that have failed to ensure our state’s “rainy day” fund is viable. It’s not just raining, guys, it’s pouring, and it doesn’t appear the rainy day fund is going to help much. Makes one wonder why we set up the fund in the first place. We can also question the people that represent our state in Congress. Six of the seven members of the Alabama delegation in the House of Representatives voted against President Barack Obama’s stimulus package. The package passed anyway and is pending in the Senate, where both Alabama senators are among the opposition.

Politics is more complicated than the “we need money, and they voted against it” logic. But our governor has said the future of education in our state depends on a package that he has no control over and that is opposed by almost all our representatives in Washington.

Tough times, indeed.