Othni J. Lathram Director, Legislative Services Agency
The Education Trust Fund
Alabama is unique in so many ways. That is one of the great strengths of our beautiful state. We have tremendous positive diversity in our people, our landscape, our wildlife, and so many other things. That diversity and uniqueness make Alabama a great place to live, raise a family, and practice law. Guess what though-not only are we unique in how we live, we are also unique in how we approach our state budgets.
Forty-six states begin their fiscal year on July 1, while ours starts October 1. Forty-seven states have a single bill that appropriates education and general fund dollars, and we split them into two. Although it varies year to year, by most accounts, 48 states earmark less than 50 percent of their state revenues, and Alabama earmarks well north of eight percent. As you have probably figured out by now, this article is going to focus on our budget process in Alabama. To be more specific, this article is going to primarily focus on how we approach the education budget and appropriate funds for education.
Let's start with the basics: who, why, and how. Like most things in Alabama government, when you want to figure out the answers to these questions, you start by looking at our 1901 Constitution.
Section 72 of the Official Recompilation of the Constitution of Alabama of 1901 provides that no money shall be paid from the state treasury except upon appropriations made by law. Section 71.01 further provides that it is paramount duty of the legislature, at any regular session, to make basic appropriations. Read in conjunction, these provisions require the legislature to pass annual appropriation bills. This process is done under the leadership of two budget committees in each house chaired by Representative Bill Poole, Senator Arthur Orr, Representative Steve Clouse, and Senator Greg Albritton.
Why are there two appropriation bills? Well, the constitution also answers that question. Section 45 requires that each law "contain but one subject." There is an exception for the...