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$300 million more to be available for education

By M.J.Ellington 334-279-6445

TUSCALOOSA — Alabama will have almost the same amount of money to spend on General Fund expenses but over $300 million more for education programs during the next fiscal year.

A longtime local lawmaker attending a legislative orientation at The University of Alabama School of Law said the revenue figures held no surprises.

Legislative Fiscal Office Director Joyce Bigbee told legislators Wednesday that revenue generated in 2006 for General Fund programs is about $66 million more than expected, leaving a $192 million surplus over the budgeted amount. In contrast, Bigbee said, the Education Trust Fund that pays for most education-related expenses had a surplus of $338 million over $6.2 billion budgeted.

Bigbee said a $66 million increase in General Fund revenues reflects a slowing national economy and a state tax revenue base that is growing.

"Forecasters project that Alabama jobs will grow modestly due to the automotive sector," Bigbee said.

She said the General Fund increases were due to higher-than-expected interest income and increased sales tax.

Bigbee also cautioned about revenue from an ongoing federal tobacco settlement case that resulted in a reduction of funds paid to the state by almost $35 million. Medicaid, senior services and agencies funded through the Children's First Trust Fund all receive tobacco settlement revenue. Bigbee said pending court discussion about the future of the tobacco settlement may have an affect on funds available for these programs as well.

One issue all lawmakers agreed on is that taxpayers want a property tax rollback and that education lobbyist Paul Hubbert will fight it.

"I truly believe it is such a hot issue that the taxpayers will insist on it," said Sen. Larry Dixon, R-Montgomery.

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