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Hickman against joining state budgets

Walton Hickman, a Democrat seeking the District 90 seat in the Alabama House of Representatives, believes funding for public education is under attack.

That belief led Hickman to sign a pledge to oppose any attempt to combine the state’s General Fund and Education Trust Fund.

“Funding for Alabama public schools has been under attack for more than the last four years,” Hickman said. “Our teachers are being forced to get by with less and less money while we demand more from them. In the process, our per pupil spending continues to be among the lowest in the nation. Combining State budgets will only serve to further reduce funding for Alabama schools. Changing the budget process and taking needed money from public education will only serve to further hurt teachers and students in Alabama’s public schools.”

The pledge was the idea of House Minority Leader Craig Ford. It states: “I pledge that I will oppose any attempt to combine the State’s General Fund and Education Trust Fund budgets, as well as any attempt to reallocate funds earmarked for public education into non-education programs or agencies.”

Alabama operates with two budgets.

The General Fund supports state programs such as child development and protection, criminal justice, conservation efforts, economic development, public health and safety, mental health, Medicaid, legislative activities and the court system.

Taxes from more than 40 sources are deposited into the General Fund, with the largest sources being the insurance company premium tax, interest on the Alabama Trust Fund and state deposits, oil and gas lease and production tax, cigarette tax, ad valorem tax, and Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board profits.

The Education Trust Fund, which funds all public education services from pre-K through our public universities.

It is funded by 10 tax sources, the largest of which are the individual and corporate income tax, sales tax, utility tax, and use tax.

In April, lawmakers enacted a $7.8 billion budget for the 2015 fiscal year. Of that $7.8 billion, $1.8 billion was proposed for the General Fund, and $5.9 billion for the Education Trust Fund.

A number of lawmakers, including Gov. Robert Bentley, believe the state should at the very least entertain the idea of combining the two budgets. In 2003 and 2012, the state legislature voted not to act on the requests of Gov. Bob Riley and Bentley to combine the budgets.

Ford said he believes that combining the budgets would be akin to robbing the state’s children.

“By taking money from the education budget to help fill in gaps with the general fund budget we are taking money from students of all ages,” he said. “Essentially, we are robbing our children, be they 4 or 24, to help pay for things like prisons. While we have to fund our prisons, that funding should not come at the expense of our children’s quality of education.”

District 90 includes Butler County, Crenshaw County, and parts of Coffee, Conecuh and Montgomery counties. Hickman will face Republican Chris Sells, in the General Election Nov. 4. Sells defeated longtime lawmaker Charles Newton in the Republican Primary.