By Craig Ford
One of the problems exposed during the gas tax debate was the fact that $63 million dollars a year gets diverted out of the Alabama Department of Transportation’s road and bridge funding to pay for state troopers and the court system.
The logic – if you can call it that – for this transfer of funds is that the troopers patrol the roads, and the courts process the tickets and arrests the troopers make, therefore they should be eligible for a portion of that road and bridge funding.
Many of those who opposed the gas tax argued that the state should keep that $63 million dollars in the Department of Transportation’s budget and find other sources of revenue for the troopers and courts.
Of course, to replace any or all of the $63 million dollars taken from the troopers and the courts would mean having to take money from somewhere else. And that is exactly what Gov. Kay Ivey has proposed to do in her budgets she released this past week.
Gov. Ivey’s plan would take $30 million of that $63 million dollars and put it back into the road and bridge funds. To make the courts and troopers whole, Gov. Ivey plans to replace that $30 million dollars by taking it out of education.
So, in other words, the governor plans to rob Peter to pay Paul. It’s all just one big shell game, but instead of a street performer it’s the leaders of our state shifting our tax dollars around.
Playing shell games with the taxpayers’ money is nothing new to our state government. It’s been happening with the education budget for decades.
There are dozens of agencies, programs and facilities that are funded with education dollars but not a part of our K-12 or higher education systems. The Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and the Motorsports Hall of Fame are both funded out of the education budget, as are portions of government agencies like the Department of Commerce and the Executive Commission on Community Service Grants.
Don’t get me wrong. Most of these agencies, programs and facilities are worthy projects deserving of state funding.
But why is that funding coming at the expense of education and not as a part of the general fund? And why are we preparing to do it again?
By putting $30 million of the $63 million dollars back into the Department of Transportation’s budget, Gov. Ivey is admitting that the funds are being used inappropriately. But her solution is to put half of the misused money back and then misuse other funds to replace the half she is taking away.
What kind of sense does that make?
Now, instead of our troopers and courts receiving funding from roads and bridges, they’ll be receiving it from the education budget. Where does it all end?
Our troopers and courts are overworked and underpaid, just like most other state employees and educators. They deserve all of the funding they have been getting and more. But state leaders can’t keep playing these shell games with our tax dollars.
Robbing Peter to pay Paul is not a legitimate strategy. It is poor management of the taxpayers’ money and a perfect example of why so many things must be earmarked in order to make sure the money goes where it is supposed to. It’s also why we separated the education budget from the general fund budget in the first place.
I urge our state leaders to reject these proposed budgets from the governor and find a way to fund our government without playing these shell games.
Craig Ford is the owner of Hodges-Ford Insurance and The Messenger newspaper. He represented Gadsden and Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives for 18 years.