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Riley OKs education budget
Governor uses line-item veto on General Fund; schools to receive $6.7 billion

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — A legislative session that began with a pay raise for lawmakers ended Thursday night with the governor signing the education budget into law and pulling off a rare line-item veto on the General Fund budget.

Efforts by Democrats to override the governor’s line item veto failed in the House, and the General Fund budget became law with the governor’s change.

“It was a victory for Republicans and the governor,” House Minority Leader Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said.

On May 29, the Legislature approved the $1.8 billion General Fund budget and $6.7 billion education budget for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. On May 31, the lawmakers passed a record $1.07 billion bond issue for school construction projects.

On the last day of the session, Riley signed the education budget and announced he would sign the bond issue into law. But he did something veteran legislators could recall no other governor successfully doing before: He used a line-item veto on the General Fund budget to mark out a $1 million appropriation to Tuscaloosa County for roads.

The governor said road projects normally are not financed out of the General Fund budget. Instead, they are financed by the state Department of Transportation from state fuel taxes and federal funds.

“Legislators can no longer use DOT for political purposes like they did for decades, so this earmark is obviously an attempt to go around DOT, take General Fund money and use it for political purposes,” Riley said.

State Sen. Phil Poole, D-Moundville, said last week he sought the funding to improve roads to three Tuscaloosa County schools, and it was not for political purposes.

Republicans filibustered in the House on Thursday to keep the House from taking a vote on whether to override the governor’s line-item veto. Democrats tried twice to cut off the stalling tactics, but they failed on votes that fell largely along party lines. At that point, House budget committee Chairman John Knight, D-Montgomery, decided to give up and accept the governor’s change.

Swing vote payback

Hubbard said Republicans were motivated by Poole providing the swing vote in the Senate’s 18-17 organizational battle in January that pitted the Democratic majority against allies of the Republican governor. The extra $1 million was added by the Senate, Hubbard said.

Riley’s success with the line item veto was a turnaround from the start of the session in March, when the Legislature voted to increase its compensation 61 percent. Riley vetoed the raise, but the Legislature quickly overrode his veto.

The state’s new General Fund budget is 8 percent larger than this year’s $1.7 billion budget. Major increases include:

n $7 million for the Department of Corrections, which is 2 percent over this year’s budget.

n $1 million to raise payments to foster parents.

n $70 million for the Medicaid Agency, which is a nearly 18 percent increase, to maintain benefits without cutbacks.

The new education budget is more than 7 percent larger than this year’s budget. It would provide a nearly 12 percent increase for K-12 schools and two-year colleges and 15 percent for universities when the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

It will double the funding for distance learning programs, where a teacher in one location leads classes in several schools, to $20 million. And it will increase the budget for the state’s Math, Science and Technology Initiative by nearly two-thirds, from $22 million to $35.8 million.

“The thriving economy we’ve been able to grow and sustain is what makes this historic investment in education possible,” Riley said.

The two budgets do not reflect all the state’s spending because several earmarked taxes are not included in the budgets, including taxes for roads, conservation programs and health programs.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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