PACT parents want lawmakers, Riley to act

Published 12:55 am Sunday, March 15, 2009

MONTGOMERY – Participants who thought they had secured finances for their childrens’ college education by investing in a now-troubled tuition program are calling for the state Legislature and Gov. Bob Riley to intervene.

But whether that will happen remains to be seen.

Riley spokesman Todd Stacey said Friday there’s not much the governor can do because he doesn’t sit on the board and has no role in administering the Wallace-Folsom Prepaid Affordable College Tuition Plan.

“He has been briefed about the situation and understands that it is a serious issue,” Stacey said in an e-mail. “At this point, Governor Riley is not going to preempt the board’s authority, however, he will be as helpful to them as he can be.”

The first word of trouble came in a letter sent about two weeks ago to the program’s 49,000 participants from State Treasurer Kay Ivey, whose office runs the plan.

Indignation over the situation has snowballed since then, reaching a pitch at a public hearing that was attended by more than 200 people, including state troopers who kept a watchful eye on things.

Riley sent a representative, but several speakers said they were surprised the governor, lieutenant governor, and other high-ranking state officials were not there.

“Where’s the governor?” one man asked.

“I’m very disappointed that Gov. Riley was not here, Lt. Gov. (Jim) Folsom, the legislators — where are they?” Guntersville resident Terry Calcote said after the meeting. “When they were selling this to us you couldn’t stir them with a stick, but now they have scattered to the wind.”

The program is named for Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. and former State Treasurer George Wallace Jr. because they worked together to get the Legislature to create it in 1989. Folsom now serves on the plan’s board and his son is a college junior using the program.

Folsom’s office said a New York business trip kept him from the meeting, but Folsom has sent those who’ve contacted his office letters saying he intends to work with legislative leaders to “rectify the problems that currently exist with the PACT program.”

“Contract fine print notwithstanding, I find it unacceptable for the program to tell its participants that there exist no legal obligations for PACT to make good on its perceived promises,” he wrote.

Legislators have gotten a barrage of calls and e-mails from alarmed and angry constituents since Ivey’s letters went out and people at the meeting said they planned to slam their representatives’ phone lines in the coming weeks to force them to act.

Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, who leads the Senate Education Committee, said she’s looking into the program’s history and what role, if any, the Legislature can play in turning things around.

“I’m doing my research to see who dropped the ball and why, but at this point that’s in the past,” she said. “Now it’s let’s move forward to see what can remedy the problem.”