By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Republicans all over the country run campaigns promising that if elected they will make government smaller and save taxpayers money by cutting government waste and inefficiency. Many times actual performance shows that government gets bigger, hires more staff, and expands its mission despite which party is in power. Not so in Alabama. Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) and the Republican super-majority vowed to chop off an ambitious billion dollars in annual savings over Bentley’s first four years in office. On Monday, Bentley announced that not only has the Republican super-majority accomplished its goal, but they surpassed it and did it one year earlier than expected.
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley said in a written statement, “Alabamians elected us to make state government more efficient and live within our means without raising taxes or cutting essential services. State government was broke when Republicans entered office in 2011, but together with Legislative leaders, we took a serious look at how we could find savings in state government. Today, I’m honored to announce that we have found over $1 billion in annual savings that will allow us to be better stewards of taxpayer money and operate state government as efficiently and effectively as possible.”
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.”
Alabama Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey (R) said, “Today’s announcement is another high mark of this administration. To reach this milestone in three years is the result of strong leadership and commitment by Governor Bentley, Pro Tem Marsh, Speaker Hubbard, the Legislature, and state employees to create a more efficient and accountable government that maximizes every tax dollar collected and spent. Early on I was asked to chair the Commission on Improving State Government and I am pleased to be a part of these sustainable changes that were implemented to help reduce costs and improve operational efficiency. Streamlining state government will be one of the key legacies of this administration’s first term.”
Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R) said, “Unlike the reckless, out-of-control spending we see in the federal government, Alabama has set a strong example for how to cut spending and run a more efficient, cost-effective government. Thanks to Governor Bentley, Lt. Governor Ivey and Republicans in the Legislature, we have reduced government spending by $1 billion and given Alabamians the lean and cost effective government we promised them in 2010.”
According to 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.
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. Bentley acknowledged that Alabama still faces budget challenges, but credited these savings with helping the state avoid hundreds of millions of dollars in reductions to essential state agencies and services. Governor Bentley said that he and the Republican legislative leaders are committed to continuing to build upon these efforts and make state government even more efficient.
Critics of the Republican super-majority claim that many of these savings were generated by making state employees give up pay and benefits. Supporters of the cuts say that the downgrades in benefits simply brought state pay and benefits more in line with the private sector.