By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Taking a page from the Gipper’s playbook on Tuesday evening, Gov. Robert Bentley released a memo that outlined the impact of the Orr/Clouse General Fund Budget.(See memo here.)
Ronald Reagan once said, “When you can’t make them see the light, make them feel the heat.”
For months Bentley has rung the alarm bell, alerting lawmakers and citizens that the house is on fire. The State’s General Fund Budget does not generate enough revenue to provide essential services that the government provides. Therefore, cuts will be made to balance the budget in accordance to State statute.
The current General Fund Budget proposed by Sen. Arthur Orr and Rep. Steve Clouse is described as an austere measure that would require further cuts and no new taxes.
The spin by talking-heads and the astroturf media is blaming Bentley for a budget the legislature is wanting to pass. Bentley gave them a budget that would give the State a surplus, but politics, not policy, is driving the decisions being made at the State House.
In response to the supermajority’s budget, Bentley asked State agencies to provide “ an accurate and unvarnished emergency operations plan in response to the proposed Clouse/Orr General Fund cuts.”
Some have cynically suggested that the Governor is fear mongering, however, the agency numbers speak for themselves.
In summary, the memo states that the State Department of Environmental Management would close, leaving its administration to the Federal EPA, which the department says will, “…cost businesses money, take longer to receive permits and ultimately cost jobs.”
Funding for the National Guard and services for veterans would be cut, with the closure of as many as 25 Army National Guard armories and diminished operational capabilities of our 2 Air National Guard Wings. This would result in the loss of 1,625 Army National Guard soldiers and 170 Air National Guard airmen. Also 3 county veteran service offices close in addition to 17 that closed in 2012.
Major public safety functions would be cut resulting in 132 law enforcement officers laid off, and closure of 13 Trooper Posts.
ALEA will be forced to shut down 33 of 78 stand-alone State Driver License Offices. It would also cause the closure of the Huntsville Regional Laboratory and Morgue, requiring 22 of the most northern counties in Alabama to transport bodies to the Montgomery lab.
Corrections says they will close 2 facilities and shift 2,000 prisoners back into the overcrowded system. The DOC has calculated the General Fund cuts will work against the progress of the Prison Reform Task Force.
One of the groups hit hardest will be children and people in need, where over 30,000 children will lose Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits, over 25,000 people will lose mental health services and 17,000 children will lose day care.
The memo shows that the Alabama court system will be unable to meet its constitutional requirements. The State Supreme Court and its appellate courts, along with 67 county courthouses, will be required to cut staff causing massive delays in services and trials.
Lastly, the memo concludes that 15 of the 22 State parks will close with an increase of fees to sustain the remaining seven parks.
Even with all the evidence presented, several lawmakers speaking on background said they would not support any tax increases.
The systemic problems facing the State are being ignored because legislators are in fear of the next election.
Lawmakers for decades have turned a blind eye to the budget crisis because they would rather win elections than make hard choices. Bentley is holding a mirror to their action, but the ugliness has not yet registered.
In his vanity publication, Storming the State House, Speaker Mike Hubbard recounts the budget crisis in 2003:
“The state’s Medicaid Agency, which was already providing only the most basic, bare bones services demanded by federal law, was facing a $110 million shortfall. Our prison system, already operating at more than 200 percent capacity, needed at least $ 50 million to meet federal court mandates to reduce overcrowding and provide the necessary security. Unsustainable increases in the costs of health insurance benefits to teachers and state employees also had a crippling financial effect. In short, the state needed almost $ 700 million in additional revenue just to maintain the status quo.”
The only thing that has changed is the Republicans are in charge and they don’t want to make the hard choice either.