Raiding trust like putting Band-Aid on boo-boo

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Generally, trusts are established for the benefit of a person who are unable to manage their finances for themselves, or to protect those people from mismanaging their assets.

Such is the case in Alabama with the Children First Trust Fund, established by a bipartisan vote of the state legislature in 1998.

Established by statue, it is funded by 46 percent of the proceeds that came to Alabama as a result of the national tobacco settlement.

Children First has never received state tax dollars, and its two paid employees are funded by corporate contributions. The trust – funded with tobacco money – provides funding to 12 state agencies that fund children’s most critical unmet needs.

But this year – just as last – the state legislature is having a difficult time balancing the General Fund budget for the coming fiscal year. Gov. Bentley and others in the legislature have pledged not to raise revenues, i.e., taxes, so they are stuck. They can’t pass a deficit budget, and they’ve vowed not to raise taxes.

What to do?

Two bills currently before the legislature would allow them to raid Children First of the monies set aside specifically for the needs of children, the weakest among us.

Senate Bill 287 would allow Bentley to take $22 million from the children to balance next year’s budget; Senate Bill 288 would allow $3 million to be diverted from Children First to be used as pork by individual senators in their districts.

Raiding a trust fund is always a bad thing, but to raid it for pork is unspeakable.

The $22 million in possible play would divert a lump sum that should have been paid over the course of the past six years, but have been delayed by legal hearings. While this money must look tempting to men trying to keep a budget in the black, it still seems like bad policy to begin diverting funds designated by law for children’s programs to keep the state afloat. Even if they raid the trust of the one-time, $22 million disbursement, they still have a budget problem next year.

Sooner or later, the state’s leaders must either make massive, painful cuts to state services, or raise revenues to fund those services. Diverting money from Children First is like putting a Band-Aid on a boo-boo. The state’s revenue problem may be temporarily out of site, but it’s still a covered-up boo-boo that our state’s leaders are refusing to treat.