Ford may have right idea

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 11, 2012

House Minority Leader Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) appears to be one of the few members of the Alabama legislature who gets it.

In a week in which the bleakness of Alabama’s budget situation has been in the news, Ford said we need to look at new revenue. And if the governor means to keep his “no new taxes” vow, he said, it’s time to look at alternatives, like a state lottery.

In his state-of-the-state address this week, Gov. Bentley said he would veto any new tax and would protect several state government and education programs. Later in the week, his finance director said the governor’s plan for balancing the state’s budgets includes shifting $185 million in Medicaid expenses for children from the General Fund to the Education Trust Fund, as well as moving $45 million from the ETF to the General Fund budget. This spells cuts for education, likely a reduction of 1,381 teaching and support personnel.

The governor’s state finance director said that would be less than the 1,500 employees education would likely lose to attrition next year. While that might mean that no one is terminated because of the cuts, it still puts fewer resources in our schools.

Insiders say that some court system agencies would be returned to 1996 funding levels.

In suggesting another look at a lottery, Ford said Alabama loses money to lottery states of Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.

“Why not keep the money here?” he said. “It would be a constitutional amendment to let the people vote.”

Ford said lottery proceeds could be split “50/50” between education and general government. Ford said the timing may not be right to introduce lottery legislation this year, but maybe it will be next year.

“I’d like to develop a dialogue,” he said. “It’s time to think outside the box.”

Gov. Don Siegelman campaigned on a state lottery for education in 1998, but Alabama voters defeated the notion in 1999.

Times are harder now. Given the choices of not prosecuting accused criminals, making further cuts to education, or letting felons out of prison early, we might be more open to the notion now.

At least Rep. Ford’s proposed solution isn’t surgical, but we’d warn him to proceed with caution: People who propose such solutions tend to get prosecuted in Alabama.