Day 78 of Higher Ed Being Held Hostage
JACKSONVILLE -- April 20, 2001 --
(The following is reprinted from today's Birmingham News.)
MONTGOMERY - The proration ax falls today, with state universities and two-year colleges having their funding cut at a rate almost three times more than that for kindergarten through 12th grade, Gov. Don Siegelman said Thursday.
Siegelman ordered cuts, caused by lower-than-expected tax collections, of 3.76 percent for K-12 schools and 11.17 percent for colleges, universities and dozens of museums, agencies and other groups that also get state education dollars.
Siegelman said colleges and universities today would get their state payments for March, minus proration.
K-12 public schools got 80 percent of their March payments last month. Siegelman said they would get the remaining 20 percent - minus proration - on Wednesday. University leaders said they would go to court to try to stop Siegelman.
"We'll ask the Alabama Supreme Court to restore the money the governor has inappropriately taken and to prevent him from reducing our appropriation in an unconstitutional manner in the future," said Wayne Echols, a lobbyist for the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Echols and other university leaders warned of program cuts, layoffs and higher tuition. He and others had called on Siegelman to impose across-the-board cuts of 6.2 percent.
Public school advocates said Siegelman did the right thing.
"We think legally and educationally, it's the right thing to do. We are pleased," said Sandra Sims-deGraffenried, Executive Director of the Alabama Association of School Boards. "It will mean less damage for us."
Paul Hubbert, Executive Secretary of the Alabama Education Association teachers' lobby, said Siegelman had no choice but to follow Attorney General Bill Pryor's opinion.
If he hadn't, Hubbert said, AEA would have sued him, and Siegelman could have faced personal civil liability for not following the Attorney General opinion regarding proration.
"Failure to follow it would be an incredulous thing for him to do. You couldn't expect him to accept that kind of risk," Hubbert said. "I think legally it's what he must do. Otherwise he'd be sued by us."
Hubbert said parents of children in public schools can be grateful that schools aren't going to be cut at the 6.2 percent rate.
"It's going to be hit, but not as devastating as it would have been," he said.
Across-the-board proration of 6.2 percent would have cut this year's state spending for K-12 public schools by about $180 million. Siegelman's cut of 3.76 percent will cut them by about $109 million.
Across-the-board cuts would have cost universities, colleges and other groups about $86 million. Siegelman's cut of 11.17 percent will cost them about $157 million.
An opinion by Pryor cited a 1995 law that bans proration of salaries for employees at K-12 public schools.
He noted that the Alabama Supreme Court plans to review a Montgomery County court case on budget cuts. But the court could be months from a ruling.
"Absent any legislative action and absent any finality by the Alabama Supreme Court, I have no choice but to follow the law as it exists today," Siegelman said in a prepared statement.
"The 1995 legislative act protects all salaries in K-12," he said. "That is the law, and until the Legislature changes it or until the Alabama Supreme Court reinterprets it, I must follow it."
Siegelman noted that university leaders Wednesday rejected his plan to sell bonds to borrow about $100 million primarily to help soften the blow of higher education cuts. He urged them to reconsider and accept his offer.
"I have and continue to encourage higher education to accept this safety net," Siegelman said.
But Gordon Stone, Executive Director of the Higher Education Partnership, said: "We stand by our decision to say no to a short-term, ill-advised bond issue. We cannot accept unequal cuts. The only fair thing is to treat everyone the same in public education."
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