An issue has arisen during the past month that has moved to the head of the class so to speak when it comes to hot potato issues. It is one that needs addressing and is now issue number one on the minds of a good many middle class, hardworking, taxpaying Alabamians. They want their state government to make good on a promise they believe was made to them.

The State’s Prepaid Affordable College Tuition program has lost 46% of its value in the last year and officials have said it lacks the money to pay the tuition for the programs 48,000 participants. In 2007 the fund had $900 million. Today it is at $484 million. The head of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education said recently that the program is in trouble because tuition costs have risen faster than expected and the number of participants enrolling in college has grown dramatically from 2006 through 2010.

The problem is caused primarily because of the recent plunge in the stock market. Regardless of the reason, the folks who bought PACT contracts now face the possibility that the program will fail to pay tuition as promised. Needless to say, there are some very mad parents and grandparents. These people are voters and even if they were not this problem needs to be resolved.

The Legislature needs to make this a priority. There is ample time in the current Legislative Session to remedy and rectify this problem. It is abhorrently unfair to allow people to put their hard earned lifesavings into a program to give their children and grandchildren a college education, which they thought was backed by the State, for the State to renege on that promise.

There are eighteen states that have prepaid tuition plans and Alabama is not the only one that is running short on cash. Although our situation may be one of the worst. Seven of the states, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Texas, Virginia and Washington, back their plan 100% and guarantee the plan performs its duties despite an economic downturn. Alabama needs to join this group.

There is a lot of finger pointing and political posturing going on surrounding this problem. Most are laying the blame on State Treasurer Kay Ivey who oversees the program. She will be damaged badly by the debacle. It is one of the few tasks given to the Treasurer and the program has failed under her watch.

This will also be an issue that the soon to be forthcoming gubernatorial aspirants will be asked to address. Troy University Chancellor Jack Hawkins altruistically moved quickly and assured students and parents that Troy will waive tuition increases for students enrolled in the PACT program for three years. The move will cost Troy University $2.5 million. Potential gubernatorial prospect, Junior College Chancellor Bradley Byrne, will ask the State School Board to freeze tuition for the next three years for the two-year college students who participate in the PACT program.

Although there will be political posturing and finger pointing, politics needs to be put aside and a remedy achieved. It is blatantly unfair for the State to fail to honor this obligation to trusting and prudent Alabama families.

The proponents of policing and taxing gambling in the State should embrace the PACT problem as part of their package. They have enlisted the support of country music stars Randy Owen and George Jones. These superstars appeared at a legislative public hearing in support of the Sweet Home Alabama proposal. The sponsor Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, said he will seek a quick vote on the matter. He said, “It limits, it controls, it regulates and it taxes electronic bingo.”

Proponents offer that it will bring in tax and tourism dollars for our beleaguered state coffers. Proceeds from the tax on the electronic bingo facilities are earmarked for education and Medicaid. It is a constitutional issue. Therefore, all the Legislature will be voting on is whether to put the issue on the ballot for Alabamians to vote up or down. The proponents would be wise to amend the package to include the PACT program in the proceeds.