News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


How about a little rain on that budget surplus?

Before state bureaucrats get too far along with plans to spend the $299 million budget surplus for 2005, let's talk about repaying in full the Alabama Trust Fund for money taken in leaner years.

Voters created a rainy-day account in 2001, with the money coming from the oil and gas royalties in the Trust Fund. The idea was to get the state through a budget crisis.

It has done that. The Legislature tapped the fund for $180 million in 2003, with the money to be repaid within five years. And so far legislators are keeping their word.

The state's made two payments of $36 million each and is ready to make a third one, for a total repayment of $108.

That leaves the state still owing the trust fund another $72 million. So, why not pay back the money at a time the state is relatively flush. Given the enormity of the surplus, the full repayment should come before schools spend a dime for anything else.

Most of the surplus is in education funds. Only $34 million of the surplus is in the General Fund. Repaying the full amount would leave the state education budget with $193 million in extra funds.

Why such an increase in revenue?

Well, business is good. Corporate income taxes, for example, rose a staggering 43 percent. Personal income taxes rose 11 percent while sales taxes climbed 6 percent.

Repaying now seems especially prudent given the Revenue Department's projections that next year's revenues won't be as robust in a slowing national economy.

Creating the rainy-day fund with stipulations to repay the money was the Legislature's way of getting voters' approval to tap the gas and oil money.

Hopefully, voters will insist that legislators repay the debt promptly, even though the IOU is to ourselves.

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