Stimulus will help Alabama

Published 7:23 pm Monday, February 23, 2009

The stimulus package just passed by Congress, known as the American Recovery and Reconstruction Act, will bring more than $3 billion to Alabama in a time when our unemployment is rising and our state budgets are on the verge of collapse.

Yes, it is true that the national debt will increase with this measure. No one likes deficit spending. It is undisputed that long-term debt poses a threat to our economic security.

But the economy today is looking at its greatest threat in two generations. Banks are teetering on the edge. Credit has dried up. Businesses are under tremendous pressure to lay off workers and just to keep their heads above water. If we do nothing then the spiral may be deeper and longer, creating larger deficits as the economy goes down.

The force of the economic downturn can be seen in the state education budget. We fund schools in Alabama primarily by earmarking all state income and sales taxes to the Education Trust Fund. As the economy sputters, revenue from these sources dries up and proration is declared.

We’ve cut more than 12 percent in education spending over the past year and a half, yet we were still looking at having to cut even more, up to another 15 percent.

Until the stimulus passed Alabama was looking at laying-off 8,000 teachers next year, increasing class sizes to historic proportions, and in the process wiping out the progress we’ve made over the past five years in student achievement.

To put it bluntly, because of our current economic troubles we were going to hurt our children’s education. The stimulus package will change that reality.

$1.1 billion is earmarked for Alabama education, money that will stabilize school budgets until the economy itself has stabilized. This not only is good news for students and the thousands of teachers who will now stay in the classroom and out of the unemployment line, it is good for the economy of every community where these teachers work. That is the point of the stimulus, keep people working to limit the damage to the economy.

Education is not the only place where the stimulus will have an impact in Alabama. There is money for infrastructure, to improve and repair our roads and bridges. There is money for other critical things like public safety and health care that were also headed for massive cuts. And there are tax cuts for middle class Alabamians, who will see more in their paycheck starting at the beginning of April.

Within the stimulus is a critical extension of unemployment benefits. $99 million is set aside for Alabama, about $33 million that will help increase benefits by $25 per week.

While increasing the national debt is of concern to all of us, the good that comes with this package outweighs potential negative impact.

In addition, doing nothing is just not an option.