Alabama Public Opinion Survey 2020

PARCA’s 2020 Public Opinion Survey, completed before the onset of the COVID-19 in the U.S., hints at the challenges state policymakers will face in responding to the pandemic.  

The survey finds, once again, aversion to certain taxes, support for public education, and mistrust in state government. At the same time, the survey finds a lack of consensus in how the state should respond to other critical issues facing the state.

Taxes

Alabamians have a strong aversion to taxes but may not fully understand their tax burden.

  • 57% believe they pay the same or more taxes than people like themselves in other states.
     
  • 51% say upper-income earners pay too little. The percent of respondents who believe upper-income earners pay too little has dropped in each of the last four years.
     
  • 49% say lower-income earners pay too much, up from 40% in 2016.
     
  • 48% say they pay the right amount of taxes, compared to 45% in 2010.

Public Education

Alabamians believe education is the most important service state government provides.

  • 78% believe the state spends too little on education, compared to 74% in 2019 and 68% in 2013.
     
  • 69% support increasing taxes to support education, but no single tax increase option garners majority support.

Alabamians value local control of schools.

  • 87% say the local board (45%) or state board of education (42%) should set school calendars, while only 3% say the legislature should decide.
     
  • 59% say local boards of education are best suited to decide how education dollars are spent.

Other notable education findings:

  • 76.5% believe that taxes on Internet sales should be distributed to local schools in the same way as sales tax revenue from brick-and-mortar sales.
     
  • 66% say any potential lottery revenue should be restricted to the Education Trust Fund.
     
  • 59% oppose using state tax credits to fund private school scholarships.
     
  • 49% say charter schools provided expanded opportunities rather than diverting funds from other schools, but almost 25% don’t know or have no opinion.
     
  • 41% say new education funding should be prioritized to increasing teacher compensation.

Trust in State Government

Alabamians’ trust in state government improved slightly compared to 2019 but is still well below rates reported in the early 2000s.

  • 80% support keeping the General Fund and Education Trust Fund separate, down from 82%, but still well above the 69% reported in 2016.
     
  • 66% believe state government officials do not care about their opinions, down from 69% last year. This compares to a low of 55% in 2008 and a high of 74% in 2010.
     
  • 55% believe they have no say in state government, down from 57% last year, but well above the low of 43% in 2008.

Policy Preferences

Alabamians express a wide variety of opinions on pressing policy issues. We asked respondents to choose their preferred policy response or policy action to such issues as prison overcrowding, taxes, education, and healthcare. Each of these six questions offered multiple responses from a range of perspectives. No single policy proposal garnered a majority response. The closest was a proposal to expand mental health services for the homeless, identified as the most important response to homelessness by 45% of respondents.

Download the full report here.


Education Trust Fund Grows but School Spending Still Behind

Receipts to Alabama’s Education Trust Fund grew by 4.2 percent in FY2015, according to year-end revenue reports, allowing the state to finish repaying the education’s borrowing from the state savings account and to begin socking away additional savings for the next downturn.

It should be noted, however, that for the current budget year, state support for local K-12 schools is still lower than it was in 2008.

The total received by the ETF, the account that pays for K-12 and higher education, climbed from $5.8 billion to $6 billion. Proceeds from the state sales tax were up 3.25 percent, and individual income tax totals increased 4 percent. Gross corporate income taxes collections were up substantially, but a big chunk of that was due to a one-time infusion of $90 million that came as the result of an audit. Leaving out that $90 million, gross collections were up 1.75 percent. At the same time, though, refunds to companies paying the corporate income tax were down. As a bottom line, when the one-time payment is factored out and the refunds factored in, receipts from the corporate income tax were up 6.3 percent. The chart below summarizes the receipts to the Education Trust Fund.

The growth allowed the state to repay prior obligations and to begin reserving money to offset future downturns. From the sales tax, $24 million was spent to restore the financing of the state’s pre-paid tuition program (PACT). Another $58 million was used to repay the Alabama Trust Fund for withdrawals from the Rainy Day Fund made during the Great Recession. The Rainy Day Fund is a pool of money within the oil and gas trust fund that can be drawn on to prevent mid-year budget cuts, known as proration.

In addition, the 2011 Rolling Reserve Act places a cap on the amount ETF spending can increase each year. Those limitations on the 2015 budget resulted in the ETF ending the year with a positive balance of $140 million. Of that, $118 million will be held in what’s known as the Budget Stabilization Fund. In the event of an economic downturn, that will provide an additional cushion against proration. The other $22 million of that 2015 balance will be deposited in an Advancement and Technology Fund, which the Legislature can tap to pay for repairs or deferred maintenance of facilities, for classroom instructional support, for insuring facilities, for transportation, or for the acquisition and/or purchase of education technology and equipment.

The 2016 budget makes $4 billion in state funds available to support local schools. By comparison, the 2008 budget allocated $4.3 billion. Allocations for technology, textbooks, professional development, transportation, classroom supplies, and student materials are still well below 2008 levels.