Accountability Act? Or Bob Riley Bailout?

April 24, 2015 chris
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By State Rep. Craig Ford

The day the Accountability Act was signed into law,
legislative leaders said it would need to be revised. Three months later,
Republican leaders offered their first “fix” bill, which expanded the tax
credits for corporate donors.

Now, Republican legislators are pushing another “fix” bill
that, once again, raises the cap. But this time, they are raising the cap to
bailout former governor Bob Riley’s scholarship granting organization (SGO)
because they can’t raise the money to pay for the scholarships they gave out.
And most of those scholarships went to kids who were already in private
schools.

We’ve heard this story before: the rich and powerful
mismanage their finances and then want the government to bail them out. Sound
familiar?

We are more than halfway through the legislative session,
and our legislative leaders can’t offer a single solution to solve the $700
million hole in the budget. But they have no problem coming up with a solution
to bailout Bob Riley.

It’s amazing to see what is happening in the Alabama
Legislature this year! There is a $700 million hole in the budget, and the
Republican leadership starts the session by ignoring the crisis and instead
pushing through an agenda that focuses on legislating morality. We are now
halfway through the session and the only solution they have offered is a
solution to bailout Bob Riley or risk admitting that the Accountability Act is
a failure.

My district in Etowah County is a prime example of how the
Accountability Act has failed. Gadsden has a failing school, and only one
student has transferred out of that school and into a different, non-failing
school. Most of the scholarships that these SGOs are granting, like the one run
by Bob Riley, are for students already in private schools. Now it looks like
they can’t even manage those.

The Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund, which is run by
Bob Riley, recently told al.com that only about half of the available
tax credits were reserved in 2014 because donors wanted to wait until the
Alabama Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of the Accountability Act
before they gave. Now, Sonya DiCarlo, a spokeswoman for the SGO, says that
their organization has 2,800 scholarships to renew, which means they need more
than $15 million.

That means Bob Riley’s SGO doesn’t have the money to grant
the scholarships they already promised. And according to the provisions of the
Accountability Act, Riley’s SGO would possibly default on the renewals if the
money isn’t raised by May 1.

Rather than admitting that they got greedy and gave out more
scholarships than they could afford, Bob Riley’s SGO is asking the legislature
to bail them out. And unfortunately, our state leaders have made this bailout a
priority.

The new “fix” bill will raise the tax credit cap from $25
million to $30 million and allow for some retroactive donations in the hopes
that, through accounting gimmicks, Bob Riley’s SGO can be saved.

The numbers are in, and they don’t paint a pretty picture.
SGO’s like Bob Riley’s are more interested in helping kids who are already in
private schools than they are in helping kids in failing schools. And now they
can’t even do that!

Bob Riley’s SGO is on life support, and he needs a
government bailout to keep him from going under. Unfortunately, legislative
leaders have chosen to make bailing out Bob Riley their legislative priority, even
over solving the budget crisis.

Members of the legislature need to focus on what’s important
this session: fixing the budget crisis and making Alabama a better place to
live, work and play. We don’t need to be worrying about how to bail out Bob
Riley and other failing SGOs that don’t serve the majority of Alabama’s
students who actually need help.