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Education budget improves since '11

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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

Alabama's Education Trust Fund is in better shape in January 2012 than it was at the same time in 2011.

According to the Alabama Department of Revenue, state income and sales tax collections are up compared to January 2011.

Three months into the fiscal year which started October 1, 2011, Alabama has collected $1.35 billion. That's a $55.3 million increase from last year.

"I think it will be very close," said Rep. Jay Love of the likelihood of the state meeting its $5.59 billion budget for 2012.

Love chairs the House Ways and Means Education committee which crafts the Education Trust Fund.

"I think it was a sound budget" Love, (R – Montgomery), said. "I'm encouraged by the track so far."

The state's General Fund budget is not in as good shape. It still faces a possibly $400 million shortfall in 2012 if its revenue sources don't increase their returns by nearly 20%.

Gov. Robert Bentley says he has considered removing earmarks from funds that would normally contribute to the Education Trust Fund and redirect them to support the general fund.

"We have two checkbooks and one of those checkbooks has no money in it" Gov. Bentley said Wednesday.

The governor says removing the earmarks is simply an idea right now and he's just doing his job in trying to figure out how to make the General Fund solvent.

"We just have to look at everything. That's the reason we're looking at it. There's nothing wrong with looking at it."

Rep. Love acknowledged that if his committee was presented with a measure to change earmarks to direct them away from the education budget, that it would be dead on arrival.

He said the same goes for any idea of a tax increase.

"With the fragile recovery that we have I think raising taxes is not the right answer" Love said. "I think you will see a scale back to the essential form and the essential functions of government."

Lawmakers will convene for the Regular Legislative Session on February 7.

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