Montgomery Advertiser on General Fund budget, educational funding :

There’s much to lament about the Legislature’s failure during the special session to produce a workable General Fund budget to pay for critical state services.

But at least the Republican supermajority wasn’t able to raid the state’s separate Education Trust Fund in a maneuver to avoid the hard work of good fiscal governance.

Not that they didn’t try, with a number of faulty proposals to divert education dollars to other areas.

As the Advertiser’s Brian Lyman reported, both chambers looked at moving $225 million in use tax dollars from the ETF to the General Fund. Senate leaders said they’d find a way to replace the money next year.

We’ve heard that one before.

The idea of the transfer is not without merit. Gov. Robert Bentley included it in his proposals for shoring up the General Fund during the regular session. But he paired it with new revenue measures to replace the lost funds for schools.

Good for House Ways and Means Education chairman Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, who helped stall the irresponsible bill by opposing any plan that doesn’t come with a replacement method.

The fight isn’t over yet, however.

You can bet on similar attempts in the second special session. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, doesn’t believe restoring the loss to the ETF is a priority, perhaps because he wants to increase pressure on other lawmakers to support his gambling proposals.

That’s a risky political game he’s playing with Alabama’s students.

State Superintendent Tommy Bice warned taking the money from the ETF without replacing it could force the education department into proration, with harsh across-the-board cuts to schools.

Advocates for education in the Legislature must refuse to pass any transfer of use taxes until a reliable revenue back-fill source is identified.

Dothan Eagle on open government:

One of the basic tenets of our representational government is the concept of inclusion for members of the public. The business conducted by those appointed or elected to governmental bodies is expected to be open for public scrutiny. Deliberations and votes are to be made in public meetings that have been adequately announced and advertised to the public at large.

The product of the work these governmental entities produce is to be available to anyone who wants to examine it.

There are few exceptions, but generally speaking, the Open Meetings and Open Records laws of Alabama ensure the people of our state have access to meetings and documents, and assurance deliberations of matters of public interest are not conducted in private.

The intent is crystal clear, but the execution often is muddied.

Earlier this year, the Alabama Legislature considered legislation that would tighten language in the law, which contained a loophole that could be interpreted to allow secret meetings between two or more members of a board, but less than a quorum.

That’s responsible government. However, in the otherwise fruitless special session that recently ended, the Legislature passed a measure that would allow members of public boards to phone in their votes to public meetings in which a quorum is present.

That would mean a school board member who could not physically attend a meeting could cast a vote via telephone or videoconference in a public meeting. That would make participating in government more convenient for an official who could not attend.

But this knife cuts both ways; it could be abused by officials who simply don’t want to bother to attend, or could lead to situations in which deliberation that should be public takes place over telephone conversations that cannot be heard by anyone except those participating in the call.

It’s a slippery slope, and one best avoided.
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