General Fund budget biggest ‘16 issue
Published 1:17 am Wednesday, January 27, 2016
The General Fund Budget will likely be the bell cow of the 2016 legislative session, set to begin Tuesday.
So says Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, and Sen. Jimmy Holley, R-Elba, agrees. The two men represent Covington County in the state legislature.
“They’re already talking about $200-plus million of un-met needs request before we go into session,” Jones said.
The General Fund budget funds functions of state government outside of education. Its funding sources are not growth taxes, which means legislators are constantly looking for ways to increase General Fund revenue.
And it’s a pretty sure thing that gambling will be proposed as a means of generating revenue, they agreed.
“As of today, there have been 27 bills pre-filed for this session,” Jones said. “Two deal with the lottery.”
The bills are very different, he said, and will likely be far different than their current format if they make it through committee to a vote on the floor.
“One is a Constitutional Amendment allowing you to vote up or down on a lottery. That’s it,” he said. “The other allows an up or down vote, but starts directing the use of the money.”
Jones said he opposes gambling on principle. However, he said, if the proposed bills gain support, he would be hesitant to depend on the funding for a basic, required function of government.
Pay raises for education employees also are expected to be on the legislative agenda. Growth in the Education Trust Fund may make that possible, he said.
A bill proposed by Senate President Pro Tem would tie proposed teacher raises to performance criteria, including surveys.
“The bill as presently written has problems of treating people fairly, and what it takes to be a good teacher in my estimation,” Holley said. “I have read the bill, and I understand it has major problems, according to superintendents and school board members and citizens that understand laws and what teachers are expected to do.”
The legislature also will likely make changes to state marriage licenses, as a result of the 2015 Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage. Jones said the ruling impacts hundreds of issues in the state.
“It is not a simple thing,” he said.