By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
House Minority Leader Craig Ford (D) from Gadsden issued a written statement in response to the Republican statement that they have saved Alabama over a billion dollars are year in annual savings.
Minority leader Ford said, “Over the past three years, the Republican Super Majority in Montgomery has balanced the State budgets on the backs of Alabama’s families. Their claims to have “right-sized” government are just another way of saying they have terminated over 10,000 jobs – including more than 2,500 teachers – and cut the pay for our educators, state employees and retirees.”
Representative Ford continued, “Because of the cuts passed by the Republican Super Majority in Montgomery, the average school bus route has gone from an hour to an hour and a half, class sizes have grown significantly, and educators, state employees and retirees have seen their pay drop by about ten percent. Because of the Republican Super Majority, we have to borrow $437 million from the state’s trust fund to keep the Medicaid program from collapsing, seventeen of our Veteran’s Affairs offices have been closed, and our courts are so overburdened and understaffed that Chief Justice Roy Moore told the press that our courts ‘are basically being cut out of existence.’”
The Gadsden Democrat concluded, “So maybe the Republicans in Montgomery think that 10,000 people losing their jobs and our state government nearly collapsing is something to brag about, but I do not!”
According to a statement by Governor Robert Bentley (R), estimates from the Alabama Department of Finance, the state was able to cut its total anticipated expenditures by $1.137 billion a year. This was achieved by making state employees contribute more of their pay towards their own pensions at a savings to the taxpayer of $345.6 million in average annual savings. The Republican Super Majority saved another $160.7 million a year by cutting excess staff in what they call, “Workforce Right-Sizing.” The state cut what they contribute towards teacher and state employees’ healthcare benefits by $118.8 million a year. Abolishing the controversial DROP program where veteran state employees could tap their pension while still working for the state saved the taxpayers another $58.5 million a year.
The Republicans were able to cut indigent defense by $15.3 million a year. Merit-Raise freezes for State employees have saved the State an impressive $139.7 million a year. Agency streamlining and realignment was credited with saving the State $49.5 million a year. The prescription drug exemption has saved the State $200 million a year. The State renegotiated numerous contracts saving taxpayers $28.8 million a year. Finally the State took advantage of historically low interest rates and refinanced the state’s debt. This generated a savings of $20.4 million annually and will save the State nearly $245.3 million total over the life of the bonds.
Alabama Speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Hubbard (R) from Auburn said, “Under Republican majority leadership, Alabama lawmakers have put the State on a path to save taxpayers more than $1 billion. When Republicans took over the Legislature for the first time in 136 years, we promised to make tough decisions and live within our means, just like every household in Alabama, and we’ve taken that vow seriously. I’m proud of our success to date, but we are continuing our efforts to streamline and right-size government without raising a single dime of taxes.”
Governor Bentley said that the total savings of $1.137 billion a year will benefit both the Education Trust Fund and the General Fund budgets.
Democrats in the legislature have been frustrated because the Republican Super Majority has resisted any and all efforts to increase state revenues, preferring instead to focus their efforts on “right sizing” State government. Democratic lawmakers claim that some of the GOP savings/cuts would have been unnecessary if the State had raised property taxes, passed a State lottery, passed a gaming bill to allow facilities like Victoryland in Tuskegee or Country Crossings in Dothan to remain open, or made a compact with the Poarch Creeks.