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March 24, 2004   Email to Friend 

Foundation Seeks To Improve Government
Jeff Helms

The Alabama Farmers Federation, along with other members of the Foundation for Educational and Economic Development, has developed a package of accountability initiatives that was presented to the Alabama Legislature last month.

The plan includes proposals that would end proration in state budgets; improve accounting oversight of state agencies; establish a plan for cost reduction and establish future cost containment of state employee health insurance; increase local control of schools and consolidate work force training in the state.

"While other groups have made recommendations about ways to increase state revenue or reduce spending, none have addressed the core problems which continue to force the state into proration year after year," said Federation Executive Director Mike Kilgore. "This plan sets constitutional limits on the growth of state budgets based on real projections and requires all agencies that receive state funding to abide by strict accounting and management standards."

The Foundation's recommendations call for a constitutional amendment that would require a sound management plan with stabilization of the budget process for the Education Trust Fund and General Fund budgets. It also would require the Legislature to maintain a 4 percent reserve in each budget, which could be used in the event of a shortfall.

In addition, one-twelfth of the state's annual debt payment would be placed into a Debt Service Escrow Fund each month so the money to pay those obligations would be available at the end of the year. A similar fund would be created to ensure state income tax refunds would be paid in a timely manner, and a Capital Resource Management Fund would allow the state to set aside money for appropriate capital projects, such as building schools.

The plan would create an independent board to develop standards of accounting, auditing and management for agencies that expend public funds. The proposal would require annual, independent audits of all entities that receive state funds.

To ensure adequate health insurance for all state employees, the plan proposes merging the Public Education Employees Health Insurance Plan and the State Employees Health Insurance Plan. An Alabama State Health Insurance Board would be appointed to manage the plan. This board would annually review health insurance costs for state workers and would recommend coverage options and shared premium costs to the Legislature.

The plan would restore decision-making authority to local school boards and would require local boards of education within a county to meet regularly to explore joint operations, consolidation and privatization of services. Local School Community Support Teams would be created to review the budgets and operations of each school, and the State Department of Education would be prohibited from imposing regulations or reporting requirements not specifically provided for and funded by Alabama law.


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