The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

October 7, 2012

State should consider the single-budget approach


Associated Press

Montgomery Advertiser on the state budget:

Alabama has bought some budgetary time with the passage of the funds transfer amendment on Sept. 18, but that decision, momentous as it was in the short term, is not in itself any sort of real fiscal reform. However, it does raise once again the question of how Alabama does its budgeting, of the dubious practice of employing two budgets rather than one, as most other states do.

Regrettably, Gov. Robert Bentley, an advocate of a single budget, seems to have abandoned any pursuit of it. ...

A single budget — rather than a budget for education and another budget for other functions of state government, with each fed by various earmarked taxes and revenue sources — would allow the state to take all of its fiscal resources and allot them according to prioritized needs. These decisions could change from fiscal year to fiscal year as conditions dictate.

Especially if coupled with meaningful tax reform that makes equitable use of the state’s full tax base, switching to a single budget could be a real boon for Alabama.

Of course there will be political opposition; Bentley’s right about that. Education forces, for example, will surely charge that schools will be shortchanged and will use their considerable political muscle to fight the change.

The strong affirmative vote in the Sept. 18 referendum suggests that Alabamians may be open to changing the budgeting system. It’s not a perfect comparison, but the vote allowed the state to use for a different purpose money it had available, much as it could do with a single budget that brings all revenue into one budgetary pool to be distributed according to prioritized needs.

This would change things dramatically, in particular by requiring a lot more fiscal decision-making by the governor and Legislature. But what’s wrong with that? They’re elected to make decisions.

Bentley should not give up on the single-budget approach. He has the bully pulpit of the governor’s office from which to tout its virtues, and he ought to use it.