Lackluster 2016 Receipts to General Fund and ETF

Both the accounts that pay for state government operations, the General Fund and the Education Trust Fund (ETF), ended the 2016 Fiscal Year basically flat when compared to the previous year, a sign that the state’s struggles to balance budgets will continue in the future.

What would have been a moderately healthy year of receipts to the Education Trust Fund was dragged down by a drop in corporate income tax collections and the shifting of some revenue into the General Fund to cover anticipated shortfalls in that account. The perpetually struggling General Fund was buoyed by that revenue shift from the ETF and by the increase of tax rates on cigarettes, but was weighed down by a drop of non-recurring revenue sources and lagging collections of taxes on oil and gas production.

For the Fiscal Year that ended Sept. 30, 2016, total receipts to the ETF were $6 billion, up only slightly from 2015. Final receipts to the General Fund, $1.8 billion, were down compared to 2015.

Those basically unchanged, bottom-line numbers from the previous year mask a titanic, behind-the-scenes struggle to balance state revenues with state spending, a struggle that is certain to continue.

Approaching Fiscal Year 2016, the scene for budget problems was set. In 2015 and for two years prior, the state propped up the General Fund, which pays for most of the state’s non-educational operations, with borrowing from the Oil and Gas Trust Fund. The Oil and Gas Trust Fund is in effect the state’s savings account.

The state borrowed approximately $146 million a year for three years. This was authorized by a constitutional amendment passed in 2012. The three years of borrowing was to give the Governor and the State Legislature time to come up with a sustainable solution for a long-running problem, a General Fund that doesn’t bring in enough revenue to support the state’s non-education agencies. The General Fund is fed by a collection of tax sources that don’t grow with the economy. As the expenses of state government grow, especially on big-ticket items like Corrections and Medicaid, the General Fund can’t keep up. The main taxes that grow with the economy – the sales tax and the income tax – are deposited in the Education Trust Fund.

After contentious debate and multiple special sessions in 2015, the Legislature increased the state cigarette tax by 25 cents a pack, which in the end yielded an additional $65 million for the General Fund. The Legislature also changed the allocation of the Use tax. The Use tax is similar to the sales tax and has historically been divided between the General Fund and the Education Trust Fund. The change in the Use tax allocation yielded an additional $100 million for the General Fund, but decreased the amount that the Education Trust Fund received in 2016. While that $165 million in new money for the General Fund would seem to make up for the anticipated hole in the General Fund, there were additional factors that hampered the performance of both the General Fund and the Education Trust Fund in 2016.

The General Fund

As mentioned above, the shift of Use tax revenue and the increase in the cigarette tax boosted the General Fund collections. Also helping the General Fund bottom line were payouts resulting from litigation over the BP oil spill lawsuit. Those settlements brought in an additional $70 million in 2016.

Also, there was some healthy growth in a few of the General Fund taxes that do grow with the economy. For example, proceeds from the tax on insurance premiums rose $10 million, an increase of 3.63 percent over 2015. Sales taxes on automobiles were up by almost $9 million, up 9.8 percent over 2015.

However, there were additional factors that weighed on the General Fund. In addition to the hole caused by the end of the borrowing from the Oil and Gas Trust Fund, the 2015 General Fund was padded by another one-time source of money. For years, the state has been in litigation over its former franchise tax, a tax that was declared unconstitutional. The state had set aside money in escrow to pay claims arising from that litigation. With those lawsuits finally winding down and in the face of 2015 budget difficulties, the state decided it was safe to release most of that money from the escrow account. That one-time revenue available in 2015 was not present in 2016. As a result, the 2016 General Fund received $115 million less from that source.

The General Fund’s problems for 2016 didn’t end there. General Fund tax receipts from oil and gas production saw a $25 million drop. That drop stems from low energy prices and declining production from the state’s oil and gas reserves. In the end, the General Fund collected $13 million less in 2016 than it did in 2015, a decline of -0.70 percent.

Entering 2017, the General Fund will have some cushion thanks to the Legislature’s decision this year to convert the long-term payout of the BP oil spill settlement to up-front cash. The move will result in $85 million in 2017 and $105 million in 2018 to support the Medicaid spending in the General Fund. But once this non-recurring infusion ends, the Legislature will face the difficulty of filling that hole.

Moves in recent years to shift additional growth taxes, like the Use tax, into the General Fund should increase the General Fund’s capacity to grow. The bump generated by the cigarette tax increase helped in 2016, but in the long-term, cigarette tax collections have been trending down as tobacco use decreases. It remains doubtful that General Fund revenue growth has the ability to keep up with the rising costs of the agencies it supports.

The Education Trust Fund

Meanwhile, on the Education Trust side of the ledger, what would have been a healthy growth year turned out to be anemic.

Individual income taxes were up $144 million, a respectable 3.68 percent. Sales tax collections climbed 4 percent, $87 million more than last year. Another bonus for the ETF was the end of the multi-year effort to pay off the ETF’s debt to its Rainy Day Fund. Having completed that repayment, The ETF got to keep an additional $57.5 million that in prior years was applied to that repayment.

But dig deeper and the ETF took some significant hits. The shift of the Use tax receipts to the General Fund decreased the amount of that tax flowing to the ETF. Though overall Use tax collections were up, the net amount sent to the Education Trust Fund fell by $66 million

The biggest hit to the ETF was a decline of $150 million in corporate income tax collections. That drop effectively wiped out the increase in individual income tax collections. Some of that drop was anticipated. The 2015 corporate income tax total was padded with about $90 million in one-time receipts, resulting from audit findings from past years. However, forecasters were surprised by the additional $60 million drop in corporate income taxes and are unsure what caused it. Since much of the decline happened in the latter part of the fiscal year, it may be due to a general decline in corporate profits during that time period. Revenue officials in other states saw similar declines.

Also down were utility tax collections, dropping $25 million, a fact that may be attributable to the warmer winter of 2015-2016.

When other incremental adjustments and smaller taxes are considered, the ETF in 2016 took in just 0.4 percent more than is in 2015.

Going into 2017, the Education Trust Fund should be poised for healthier growth. It will need it. The 2017 Budget, approved earlier this year, includes a 4 percent raise for teachers. In the meantime, the weakness in corporate income tax receipts bears watching.

No doubt, the Legislature will face fiscal challenges in the upcoming session.  PARCA will continue to follow these important issues.


Constitutional Amendments on the November Ballot

When Alabama voters go to the polls on November 8, they will be asked to consider adding 35 more amendments to the Alabama Constitution. PARCA has compiled a summary of each of the 14 amendments that will appear on the ballot statewide.

Alabama already has the nation’s longest constitution — about 12 times longer than the national average. Since its adoption in 1901, the Alabama Constitution has been amended 895 times.

In principle, constitutions are meant to lay out the fundamental powers of government and establish a statewide framework for its operation, leaving the state legislature and local legislative bodies the task of carrying out work within those limits. Alabama’s Constitution, by contrast, is minutely detailed with a multitude of amendments that create local exceptions that apply to individual jurisdictions, as well as provisions that apply statewide.

The problem stems from the constitution strictly limiting the powers of local governments. Almost immediately after its adoption, the constitution began to accumulate amendments, most of which created local exceptions to state constitutional principles. November’s ballot continues that practice. Of the 35 amendments proposed, 25 apply to a single jurisdiction. Of the total, 14 amendments will be voted on statewide. Of those, 10 will affect the state as a whole, and four pertain to an individual locality but are being voted on by voters throughout the state.

Of those local amendments being considered statewide, one is a proposal to raise the maximum age of the probate judge in Pickens County to 75. Voters statewide will also decide whether the citizens of Etowah County can create a personnel board for employees of its sheriff’s department.

Four statewide amendments, Amendments 3, 4, 5 and 6, make a modest effort to clean up some of the problems with the Constitution. These amendments are the result of the work of a nonpartisan commission chaired by former Governor Albert Brewer, PARCA’s founder and chairman emeritus.

In addition to PARCA’s summary, more information on the proposed amendments can be found on the Secretary of State’s website including summaries and explanations compiled by the state’s Fair Ballot Commission.

Read PARCA’s analysis of the proposed amendments.


First Meeting of Task Force on Budget Reform Wednesday

A newly formed Joint Legislative Task Force on Budget Reform meets for the first time this week in Montgomery: a group of House and Senate members tasked with studying and recommending changes to the state’s broken system for budgeting. That is the same issue PARCA examined at its 2016 Annual Meeting this February.

The Task Force meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday, at the State House, Room 200.

The Legislature is just coming off yet another special session, called this year by Governor Robert Bentley to stave off severe Medicaid service cuts that would have resulted from General Fund budget passed in the 2016 Regular Session.

In 2015, Bentley called the Legislature back twice to cope with the same problem: a persistent structural deficit in the General Fund. Since 2000, there have been 16 special sessions called by governors. While not all of those have been called to address budget issues, many have, including the past three special sessions.

The Joint Resolution creating the new Task Force acknowledges that the Legislature’s most recent temporary solution to its budget woes – using money from the BP Oil Spill Settlement to supplement state support for Medicaid for the next two years — doesn’t solve the essential problem. As the resolution put it: “The expenditures of state government within the General Fund are projected to continue growing at a level that will outpace available revenues.”

Why do we have this recurring problem?

1. Alabama is short on money. Alabama state and local governments collect less in taxes, per capita, than governments in any other state in the United States (PARCA Perspective, Dec. 2015).

2. Alabama’s General Fund is supported by taxes that don’t grow. Agency expenses rise, but the funds available to pay for them don’t keep up. (PARCA Perspective, Oct. 2015). In light of that, the Legislature applies one-time revenue sources to plug budget holes. And that guarantees the shortfall will recur when those one-time revenues are exhausted.

3. Alabama needs, but does not have, an effective budgeting process, one that identifies priorities and goals, pushes for efficiency, and maximizes effectiveness.

In the interest of improving budgeting in Alabama, the Task Force has been asked to examine the following questions:

1. Should we implement biennial budgeting — drafting budgets that cover two years, rather than one?

2. Should we require state entities to undergo greater performance and program reviews?

3. Should we unearmark funds in order to provide for greater legislative oversight and appropriating flexibility?

4. Should we review existing state tax credits and deductions and creating a policy to ensure that future tax credits effectively provide economic gain to the state?

5. Can we identify areas to provide tax relief to Alabama families without significantly impacting state budgets?

At PARCA’s 2016 Annual Meeting, we presented a summary of the current budget process, its problems, and potential solutions. To put Alabama’s budgeting process in a national context, the PARCA program featured William Glasgall the director of State and Local Programs for the Volcker Alliance. The nonpartisan Volker Alliance is working nationally to encourage greater truth and integrity in state government financial reporting and budgeting. Glasgall’s presentation identified national budgeting best practices, and compared Alabama’s, noting areas where the state compares favorably and where it needs work.

Based on research presented at the Annual Meeting, PARCA developed a series of basic recommendations for improving the budget process:

Recommendation #1:  Good fiscal decisions require clear, concise information. State government should present continuous, clear, and meaningful information on state revenues and expenditures.

These reports should be regular and timely and include a narrative explanation the numbers. Reports should:

1. Clearly identify one-time sources of revenue

2. Evaluate the cost of tax incentives and the benefits produced

3. Disclose debt costs and trends, including long-term forecasting of revenue and expenditure growth

Recommendation #2: The executive and legislative branches should reexamine and reconcile their budgeting process based on the requirements of the Alabama’s existing Budget and Management Act, making adjustments where improvement is needed.

1. The Governor’s budget should include strategic planning and explanation of budget choices, goals, and plans.

2. Agencies should make reasonable requests that include performance measures.

3. The Governor and Legislature should work toward agreement on:

– consolidating the information gathering process

– identifying relevant and meaningful expense data and performance measures to be tracked

– a budget process that encourages both cost reduction, innovation, and success in meeting state policy priorities

Recommendation #3:  Ultimately, revenues must match expenses. The State should recognize and address the chronic structural deficit in the General Fund.

Alabama’s habit of earmarking revenue limits transparency, flexibility, and better budget management. Reducing earmarking should be pursued. However, considering Alabama’s low per capita tax revenues, and low comparative spending on big-ticket items like education, prisons, and Medicaid, un-earmarking is unlikely to solve recurring financial problems. Along with improvements to the budget process, a stable, revenue source that will grow over time, along with expenses, should be added to the General Fund.

PARCA will provide updates on the work of the Budget Task Force throughout the fall.


PARCA Annual Meeting Additional Materials

PARCA’s Annual Meeting was held in Birmingham on Friday, February 5. Its focus was Alabama’s process for formulating budgets.

PARCA’s description of current budget issues can be accessed here.

The presentation made by William Glasgall of the Volcker Alliance describing budget issues in a national context can be found here.

If you want to look at Governor Robert Bentley’s Budget proposal for FY 2017, it can viewed or downloaded here.

For comparison, the links below provide a look at the budget documents from other states.

South Carolina

Virginia

Tennessee

Georgia’s Budget in Brief and links to other budget documents

Mississippi

 


Resources for Understanding Alabama's Budget Process

One resource for understanding budgets is the Budget Fact Book published by the Alabama’s Legislative Fiscal Office.

As February approaches, the Legislature is preparing to return to Montgomery for yet another tough session of struggling with Alabama’s budgets.

The Governor’s Office is in the process of crafting a proposed plan and budget. The Legislature has already begun its process of reviewing budget requests from state agencies.

PARCA’s annual meeting, to be held Friday, February 5 at the Harbert Center in Birmingham, will focus on Alabama’s budget process: how it works now and how it might be improved. The meeting agenda features William Glasgall of the Volcker Alliance, a national nonpartisan effort to rebuild trust in government and improve its effectiveness. Glasgall serves as the Program Director for the Alliance’s State and Local Accountability and Improvement programs, which has focused its research on ways to improve state budgeting and financial practices. Leaders from the Legislature’s budget committee will participate in a panel discussion of the budget process and the challenges the state will face. Gov. Robert Bentley will deliver the luncheon address.

In preparation, PARCA has compiled a sampling of resources available to those who want to better understand the budget process.

You can find an overview about how the various states pursue budgeting in Budget Processes of the States from the National Association of State Budget Officers. The publication explains terms like programs, performance, and zero-based budgeting, and compares states on the approaches they take. The Volcker Alliance’s website features several publications recommending improvements in the way states budget.

Closer to home, the basic law describing how Alabama’s budget process is supposed to work is the Budget Management Act.

For those of you who want to follow the blow-by-blow of the budgeting process during the coming session, here are some key links:

The Executive Budget Office

When the Governor publishes his budget in the coming weeks, it will be posted here as the executive budget, along with budgets from previous years. The Finance Department website also includes budget summary spreadsheets that offer comparisons of the governor’s proposed but with those of prior years.

After they are introduced, The Legislative Fiscal Office also publishes spreadsheets of the budgets under consideration.

Annually, the Fiscal Office also publishes and posts A Legislator’s Guide to Alabama Taxes, with detailed information about tax collections and descriptions of Alabama and also the annual Budget Fact Book, with information about each agency’s budget and performance measures.

For the super budget geeks:

You can find reports on state revenue and spending at Open.Alabama.gov.

In a different spot on the Web, the Department of Finance publishes Quarterly Budget Management Reports that detail year-to-date revenues and expenditures for each agency and Quarterly Performance Reports that are supposed to provide insight into how agencies are doing carrying out their various missions.

But a word of warning, the Budget Management Reports are detailed and dense. The pdf file that includes all spending and revenue by state agencies is 2,627 pages long.  The Quarterly Performance Reports for all state agencies are over 200 pages long, and the depth of information varies widely agency-by-agency.

 

 


PARCA Annual Survey of Public Opinion 2016

In January 2016, The Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama conducted its annual poll of public opinion. This is the 10th year of the survey. This year, the survey focuses on revenue and spending in state government. The survey touches on multiple topics: taxes, education, Medicaid, highways, public safety, courts, state parks, and others. The complete survey results are posted in presentation form above. Text of the questions and results are presented at the bottom of this post. Highlights are featured below. An in-depth audio-visual presentation of the of the results is also available here.

The survey of 466 Alabamians was conducted between January 4 and January 21. Randolph Horn, Samford University Professor of Political Science and Samford’s Director of Strategic and Applied Analysis, collaborated with PARCA on the design of the survey and directed the polling operation. The results were weighted to reflect the demographic makeup of the state.

Respondents ranked education as the most important investment the state makes followed by health care, public safety, and highways. All four areas are underfunded in Alabama, according to a majority of respondents.

 

In the areas of education and health care, majorities said they would be willing to pay more in taxes the avoid cuts or achieve adequate funding. In the areas of public safety and highways, less than a majority would be willing to pay more in taxes to avoid cuts or achieve adequacy.

A majority said the state needs more revenue to support state services.

 

Respondents perceive that state and local taxes fall more heavily on lower-income Alabamians than higher income range. A plurality of respondents say that lower-income residents pay too much in state and local taxes and a majority say that that those in the upper-income group pay too little.

 

Given options for how the state might increase tax revenue, the only option receiving majority support was to make the state income tax more progressive by increasing the percentage of income that high-income individuals pay in state income taxes.

 

Looking more closely at more targeted areas of state investment, a majority of respondents said state parks and state troopers are not adequately funded. Opinions were more mixed when it came to state courts and driver’s license offices.

But none of those areas received majority support when respondents were asked if they were willing to pay more in taxes to support them.

A majority of respondents support expanding Medicaid to cover more people. The same question was asked last year and received the same level of support.

On most questions, Alabamians, whether Democrat or Republican, black or white, are relatively united in opinion. However, the response to the Medicaid question does show a partisan divide with majorities of Democrats and independents supporting expansion while a majority of Republicans support maintaining the system as it is.

Strong majorities felt that officials in Montgomery did not care about their individual opinions. This is consistent finding over time.

That distrust of elected officials is perhaps reflected in respondents’ support for earmarking state revenue. Earmarking is defined as designating revenue raised from a particular source to be spent for a particular purpose. An example would be Alabama’s earmarking of income and sales tax revenue for public education.

 

When it comes to education spending in Alabama, respondents had particularly strong opinions: 69 percent said the education budget should be kept separate from the budgets funding other state services; 70 percent said too little is being spent on education; over 80 percent said the level of funding for schools makes a difference in educational quality; 86 percent said that the state should make up the difference if a community is too poor to support schools adequately.
In terms of what areas are most need of investment in education, respondents showed the strongest support for spending more on teacher’s salaries, with 71 percent supporting increasing teacher salaries. Increasing spending on technology infrastructure, hiring more classroom teachers, school security, classroom technology, and music and the arts all received majority support.

The full text of questions and results is included below.


Lowest Per Capita Tax Collections in the Nation

Alabama once again ranks last in per capita state and local tax collections, according to new data released by the U.S. Census Bureau. Alabama has consistently maintained its No. 50 ranking since the early 1990s.

As a result, Alabama state and local governments have less to spend than governments in other states when providing services to the public. This lack of revenue is an underlying factor in the state’s recurring budget problems. The Governor and Legislature struggle to find enough money to adequately support the functions of state government. In the past several years, the government has made cuts to programs, borrowed from the state savings account, and applied one-time sources of money to balance the budget.

In 2015, the Legislature couldn’t agree on a General Fund budget until September, putting in place a budget just before October, the beginning of the 2016 fiscal year. Again, agencies’ budgets were cut, funds were shuffled between accounts, and modest tax increases were passed to balance a bare bones budget. The most recent comparative data available from the Census is from 2013, so the effects of the tax changes made in 2015 won’t show up for several years. However, the minor changes are unlikely to affect Alabama’s No. 50 ranking.

Low taxes per capita don’t necessarily mean low tax burdens for everyone. A mix of different taxes make up total tax collections, and each state structures its taxes differently. There are three principal types of state and local taxes: property, income, and sales. A tax system that is balanced among these three sources promotes fairness and stability. Alabama’s tax system is not balanced. Alabama has the lowest property tax collections in the country. To make up the difference, Alabama relies more heavily on sales taxes.

The rules governing how taxes are applied also makes a difference in who pays them. In Alabama, property taxes are structured in a way that benefits homeowners, and owners of land in use for agriculture or timber. Commercial and utility property owners pay more than those protected classes.

Meanwhile, Alabama’s average combined state and local sales tax rates are 4th highest in the country, according to the Tax Foundation. Those taxes fall most heavily on low-income Alabamians since they spend a greater share of income on goods that are taxed. Many states attempt to lighten the burden by exempting groceries from the sales tax or giving an income tax rebate to low-income families. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, only two states, Alabama and Mississippi, allow the full weight of the sales tax to apply to groceries.

Concerning the income tax, most states employ measures to minimize the income tax that low-income households have to pay. Alabama, by contrast, begins taxing income at one of the lowest thresholds in the U.S. Alabama is one of only three states that allows taxpayers to fully deduct federal income tax paid, when calculating their tax bill. That tax break provides a larger benefit for more affluent families, who pay more in federal taxes.

Here’s how Alabama tax revenues per capita rank in the various categories of taxation.

Alabama has low tax collections per capita for two reasons: low tax rates and a relatively small tax base. One way to measure a state’s tax base is to look at gross domestic product, the value of all goods and services produced in a state. Alabama ranks 45th among U.S. states on GDP per capita. In the Southeast, Louisiana, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Florida have higher per capita GDP than Alabama. Arkansas, South Carolina, and Mississippi have lower per capita GDP. Alabama applies low tax rates to a smaller taxable base to produce the lowest taxes per capita, not only in the region, but also in the nation at large.

In the interactive presentation below, Alabama’s tax collections are compared to other Southeastern states. In general, these states have similar demographics and similar attitudes toward taxes and the size of government. Using the geography menu, you can change the comparison states.

 


From Governing: How Mobile, Alabama, Used Instagram to Address Blight

Like many cities, Mobile, Ala., didn’t even know how many blighted properties it had. Instagram offered a cheap and simple way to start figuring that out.

Mobile’s use of social media tools to combat urban blight is featured in a recent post on Governing Magazine’s States and Localities blog. Read about the work of Mobile’s innovation team, which was made possible by a three-year $1.65 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Source: How Mobile, Alabama, Used Instagram to Address Blight


General Fund Sputters Along

Despite the healthy economy, the state’s General Fund posted its usual sputtering performance in 2015, according to the state’s year-end revenue collection reports.

The General Fund, which supports the non-education functions of state government, received about $1.8 billion in 2015, up from approximately $1.7 billion in 2014. However, that total includes a $105 million transfer from a business tax escrow account. Without that one-time transfer, General Fund revenue collections would have been up just 1.4 percent over 2014. And in both 2014 and 2015, the General Fund was supplemented with $146 million in borrowing from the Alabama Trust Fund.

Neither the $146 million nor the $105 million will be available for 2016. That’s the scenario that set the stage for the Legislature’s protracted struggle to pass a budget for 2016. Anticipating that $251 million hole, the Legislature balanced the 2016 General Fund budget by cutting state agencies, adding some new revenue by raising the cigarette tax, and shifting more of the use tax from the Education Trust Fund to the General Fund.

Those measures will allow the General Fund to sputter along another year, but they won’t solve the long-term problem: The General Fund’s hodgepodge of taxes don’t grow at the same rate as the economy. As the cost of those non-education services rises, the General Fund doesn’t keep pace.

The chart below lists the revenue sources that supply the General Fund and compares performance in 2015 to collections in 2014. A discussion of major fluctuations follows the chart.

Abandoned Property: Each year, financial institutions and businesses that lose contact with the customers turn millions of dollars over to the Alabama Treasurer’s Office. The State Treasury attempt to return the assets — cash, stocks, bonds, insurance benefits and even valuables from safe deposit boxes — to the rightful owners. Currently, the state has about $420 million in unclaimed assets, each year some small portion of that is released to the General Fund. The distribution was higher in 2015 than in 2014, but according to state financial officials the $20 million increase in the 2015 distribution was due to the normal variation.

Corporation Tax: The big jump in the revenue from this tax comes from a one-time distribution of $105 million from an escrow account. Money was being held in that escrow account to pay back companies that paid a now-defunct franchise tax. That tax was ruled unconstitutional, and the money has been gradually paid back from this escrow account set up to pay the claims. That payback process is now over, and the remaining money was deposited into the General Fund in 2015.

Use Tax: The use tax is the sales tax as applied to goods purchased from another state. Traditionally, sales and use taxes have gone to the Education Trust Fund, but in recent years the Legislature has shifted some of the use tax into the General Fund, adding a growth tax to the General Fund. The “Use Tax Remote” is the use tax on sales made across state lines over the Internet. That portion of the use tax has been growing at a healthy pace. For 2016, even more of the use tax will be shifted from the Education Trust Fund to the General Fund. The Legislature estimates that the change will add another $80 million to the General Fund.

Cigarette Tax: Revenue from the tax on cigarettes continued a multi-year decline corresponding to declining smoking rates. The 1 percent drop would have been steeper if not for a rush to stock up on cigarettes in September. Cigarette packs purchased in September weren’t subject to the 25 cents per pack increase that went into effect Oct. 1. The Legislature estimates the higher tax on cigarettes will generate $66 million in additional revenue in 2016.

Oil and Gas Production Tax: In 2015, revenue from this tax on the value of sales of gas and oil produced in the state declined by $30 million due to falling prices of oil and natural gas.

Alabama Trust Fund: Revenue from the Alabama Trust Fund declined. This distribution is based on the size of the state oil and gas trust fund. Since the state has been drawing $146 million a year out of the fund for the past three years to pay for operations, the regular distribution is shrinking, despite positive returns on investments. In 2016, the borrowing ends but the long term effect of the withdrawals will be felt for years to come.

Cellular Phone Tax: This tax on cellular phone minutes continues to drop since cell phone companies have been shifting customers to data plans, which are not subject to the tax.

Looking at other sources, higher revenue from alcoholic beverage sales drove up profits from the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. Revenue coming from the interest on state deposits was down as interest rates continue to be low. However, banks showed signs of better profits, leading to an increase in collections of the Financial Institutions Excise Tax.


PARCA Talks State Budget

With the passage of the state’s general fund budget last week, PARCA Senior Research Associate Tom Spencer took a moment to sit down with WBHM’s Andrew Yeager to provide an overview of the budget and how some of the key departments will be affected.

“Medicaid, prisons, and education had strategic plans in place,” said Spencer. He says that allows lawmakers to make budgeting decisions for those parts of state government within an existing framework. That kind of planning doesn’t happen with other general fund agencies. With cuts to many agencies starting at 6 percent and no strategic plans in place, it’s hard to know the effects it will have on those agencies.

“We spent a lot of time [in the special session] with proposals coming from left and right about what to close and what to eliminate,” said Spencer. “They weren’t really based, in a lot of cases, on good solid information or well-thought-out plans.”

PARCA has recommended for years that the state adopt a system called performance-based budgeting. Performance based budgeting differs from other budgeting methods by focusing on policy goals and results rather than money spent.

“Figure out where you are, set a goal of where you want to go, identify the strategies that will get you to where you want to go, show what kind of investments need to be made, and pursue that. Measure your results, discard things that aren’t working and adopt different strategies,” Spencer said.

“State and local taxes are the lowest per capita in the United States of America. We have to run more efficiently than anybody else if we want to provide the same level of services. If we’re not asking tough questions and paying close attention to the bottom line, we’re not going to get good results.”

 Click here to listen to the full interview.