By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
In the 2012 legislative session, the Republican controlled legislature was confronted squarely with an unprecedented General Fund crisis. Early in the session it appeared that the legislature would either raise taxes or it would have to make severe cuts to either the Alabama Medicaid program or the state prison system. There were proponents for both solutions. Ultimately the legislature did neither. They elected to punt the ball to the voters of Alabama. The legislature is asking for the voter to allow them to raid the principal of the Alabama Trust Fund for three years to fund current spending until after the 2014 election.
If the voters vote yes on the Special September 18th Referendum then the state will be draining the Alabama Trust Fund and costing the General Fund interest income for decades to come. There are also costs if the voters vote no and the state is forced to prorate the state’s FY2013 General Fund budget.
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley recently told the media, “”I’m not sure there is a Plan B other than massive cuts. Everything will be on the table.” Gov. Bentley said if Sept. Amendment doesn’t pass.
A review of departments suggest that, the cuts will be drastic. The Examiner of Public Accounts will be able to do fewer audits and will have less financial oversight of state agencies. There will be layoffs in the legislative staff. Cuts to the Judicial System means that the courts can’t hear as many cases delaying some of them for months. Accused felons will either spend more time in county jails awaiting trial or will be free on bond longer. Fewer court clerks will mean delays in processing sentencing orders and more backlogs at county jails throughout Alabama.
The Department of Agriculture and Industries will have to reduce food inspections, cut salaries, and won’t be able to update computers and technology. The Alabama Attorney General will have to cut down on workers investigating child abuse and neglect. The Department of Children’s Affairs will see cuts that will be magnified by the loss of federal grant money. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will have to cut the number of enforcement officers to investigate poachers and Alabama’s game conservation laws.
Most severely the Department of Corrections will have to layoff up to 800 people leading to the early release of 6,500 inmates and the closing of two or more of our already understaffed state prisons. Cuts to the Criminal Justice Information Center will lead to a reduction in the reporting and tracking of criminal justice information. District Attorney’s offices all over the state will have to lay off workers leading to an increased caseload per remaining prosecutors and case backlogs. Reduced staff at ADECA will lead to fewer workers to apply for economic grants and potentially the loss of future federal grant money. Cuts to the Alabama Emergency Management Agency will lead to offices closing and more layoffs.
We have been told that the Alabama Department of Environmental Management may also receive a cut leading a smaller staff and potentially poorer enforcement of environmental regulations. Cuts at the Alabama Ethics Commission will result in in layoffs and a backlog in filings. Alabama Forensic Sciences will have to close their office in Tuscaloosa and the morgue in Huntsville. Our sources say that Forensic Sciences will be hit with a 12% staff reduction which will slow down law enforcement investigations.
The Alabama Forestry Commission will reduce staff leading to reductions in: fire prevention services, tornado cleanup, pine beetle control, and invasive species control. The Alabama Department of Public Health could eliminate as many as 400 jobs. This will result in fewer restaurant inspections, the closing of county health clinics, and reduced hours of operation at the remaining clinics.
The Department of Human Resources is anticipating cutting 133 positions. The department will close adult day care programs and there will be fewer inspectors to investigate reports of elder abuse. Reduction in staff at the Department of Industrial Relations will result in a loss of oversight of unemployment insurance programs. The Department of Labor will have fewer staff: enforcing state labor laws, providing mediation services, overseeing unions and union elections, investigating job related injuries and deaths, and enforcing child labor statutes. The Department of Mental Health could face even more cuts.
Alabama Medicaid will reduce payments to some service providers by as much as 10%. Our sources are not anticipating any cuts to children’s insurance programs or in long term care (LTC). There could be further cuts to services for adults (which already lost benefits in the FY2013 budget).
Cuts at the Secretary of State’s offices will result in staff losses possibly leading to less enforcement and potentially more voter fraud. Cuts at the Department of Public Safety will result in fewer state troopers on the road and longer lines to get driver licenses. Cuts at Pardons & Paroles will lead in fewer parole officers and less supervision of recently released felons. Cuts to the Department of Senior Services will potentially lead to less oversight of elder abuse, a reduction in legal assistance for seniors, less nutrition & wellness services, and fewer Medicare fraud prevention specialists. Cuts to the Alabama Tourism Department will make it harder to market the state to potential tourists. The State Treasurer’s office will have layoffs. The Department of Veteran Affairs will close more offices. There will be fewer services for veterans. The Department of Youth Services will have staff reductions and services. The state will be force to reduce their capacity, releasing more dangerous teens sooner. Cuts to the Alabama State Port Authority could lead to reductions in offloading tonnage and extended delays in loading and outgoing shipping capacity. Personnel cuts could lead to compromised safety and security.
Of course, it is likely that if the voters reject the legislature’s plan on September 18th there will be a Special Session the following week. These numbers COULD change in that Special Session.