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TUESDAY, JANUARY 10, 2006
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EDITORIAL

Pay back rainy-day fund before spending surplus

In 2003, state tax revenues were so bad the Legislature had to tap the oil and gas royalties to cobble together the General Fund and Education Fund budgets.

As legislators begin their new session today, things are so good that they are squabbling over how to spend the surplus, or if they should give Alabamians a rare tax refund.

But what about the remainder of the $180 million debt incurred in 2003, with the stipulation to repay it within five years?

Voters created the rainy-day account from the Alabama Trust Fund in 2001 to help get the state through financial crises.

But in an election year, not enough people are talking about the $72 million or so still owed on that debt.

Hopefully, fiscally responsible legislators will make an issue of not only repaying the fund but in making sure they keep their word to the public that they would do so. At least Gov. Bob Riley is expected to recommend repaying the balance.

Tapping the oil and gas money for a loan was a way around legal barriers to spending the Trust Fund. So, before anybody gets too carried away with giving the money back as excess revenue, cutting taxes, or doing any of the other suggested projects with the estimated $300 million to nearly $1 billion surplus, let's repay the loan.

Sure, the state has a myriad of programs that need extra funding. Prisons need money; so do Medicaid and every phase of public education.

Let's put all of the money back now, even though it's not all due at this time. Next year might be a repeat of 2003, and the state will need to borrow again. It's much better to borrow from a full till than from one that's still trying to recover.

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