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2010 February 8 - 12:00 am

MONEY TREE: Alabama Governor Candidates Eye Gambling To Boost Education Funding

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Candidates for governor have agreed that a funding crisis looms for public education and offered a range of solutions, including a tax on gambling, a change in drawing up budgets and financial belt-tightening.

Six of the eight announced candidates were asked their views on funding education in a forum before Alabama school superintendents. Lawmakers who opened the 2010 session face possible Draconian cuts in the education budget because the recession has caused tax revenues to drop.

“The truth is the cavalry is not coming,” Greenville businessman Tim James said of the funding crisis.

Another candidate, Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks, agreed: “The problem is we are broke. We could continue to rearrange the chairs on the Titanic and it’s not going to help.”

Democratic candidate Sparks and Republican Bill Johnson, a former member of Gov. Bob Riley’s cabinet, both said they favor legalizing and taxing gambling and using that money for education.

Sparks said he favors establishing a statewide lottery, regulating and taxing other gambling, forming a gaming commission and using lottery revenues to offer college scholarships to Alabama high school graduates.

“I think we can find funding by allowing a vote on gambling,” Johnson said.

Democratic candidate Congressman Artur Davis of Birmingham favors taxing and regulating gambling, but warned that taxing gambling would not be an immediate solution. He said it could take the state several years to see money from legalized gambling.

Davis said another way to help the state’s budget problems would be to change the way the Legislature budgets state funds.

“We’ve got to figure out how to make better use of the money we’ve got,” said Davis, suggesting the state adopt a “rolling budget” that uses revenue growth over the past five years to determine a new budget.

Republicans James, former state two-year college Chancellor Bradley Byrne and Republican state Rep. Robert Bentley suggested belt-tightening and a budgeting system where the state would save money in good times so it wouldn’t be broke in hard times.

James blamed the budget crisis on “an irresponsible Legislature doubling the size of government” in recent years.

“If in surplus years, we had put the extra money in a bucket, we would not be in the trouble we are in now,” said James, the son of former Gov. Fob James.

Byrne said legislators need to stop the practice of passing a large, generous budget during good economic times and then a bare-bones spending plan in tough times.

“You deserve more realistic budgets,” Byrne said.

Republican candidates Kay Ivey and Roy Moore did not attend the forum.

Comments: editor@ccweek.com

Also from BOB JOHNSON, Associated Press Writer

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