By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Friday April 24, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) was in Etowah County meeting with members of the Chamber of Commerce to warn about the impact to Etowah County if the Legislature passes a 2016 General Fund budget that cuts government agencies and programs without any of his requested revenue increases.
Gov. Bentley said, “We are facing a tremendous crisis in our General Fund Budget that will impact every Alabama County if not addressed by the Alabama Legislature. I am committed to finding new revenue so our state agencies can continue to provide essential services to Alabamians. For decades, we have failed to address the way our non-education state agencies are funded. With no one-time money available to support the General Fund and debts that are owed, we have a real crisis on our hands. The cuts in the Legislative proposal impact all 67 counties in Alabama. I encourage the residents of Etowah County to let their elected representatives know that these cuts will hurt the people in Etowah County.”
The Alabama Legislature is considering a budget that right sizes government agencies to match actual state revenues. The state avoided this outcome by raiding the Alabama Trust Fund in 2012. Now that that money is gone….and elections are behind them, the legislature is confronted with either downsizing state government or raising taxes.
According to the Governor’s office, if the legislature actually downsizes state government Etowah County would lose: the Gadsden State Trooper Post would close, 100 state troopers state wide would be laid off, the Department of Veterans Affairs would not hire a new veterans service officer, 83 Etowah County Seniors would lose waivers funding allows them to receive assistance at home and not in a nursing home, $350,000 in funding for Etowah County Community Corrections would be cut, 230 Etowah County children will lose temporary assistance from the Department of Human Resources, the Etowah County Court System will lose 3 Juvenile Probation Officers and 12 Court Specialists on the Circuit Clerk’s Staff, 160 water current permits in Etowah County could be handed over by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and 1,000 people statewide would lose assistance for their intellectual disabilities, likely affecting some of the over 200 in Etowah County receiving assistance now.
In February, Gov. Bentley proposed a massive $541 million tax increase package to avoid rightsizing the General Fund budget. Bentley’s plan raised taxes on tobacco, utility bills, insurance, banks, new car sales, rental cars, etc.
The $541 million a year Bentley package would both cover the $261 million budget shortfall in the General Fund and pay off $$millions of dollars in debt the state owes. What the state would do with that extra money once those debts were paid off next year has not been explained by Governor’s office.
Gov. Bentley said, “Now is the time for real solutions to address our budget challenges. I was elected to solve problems, and I urge members of the Legislature to work with me to put this state on a successful path forward. By working together, we can make Alabama better for future generations.”
Governor Bentley (as well as most of the legislature) ran last year on their record of not raising taxes and downsizing government. Bentley now insists that did not apply to his second term.
Bentley’s plan has met with skepticism from many legislators. Conservatives want to cut state government down to a smaller more manageable size using targeted elimination of waste and nonessential government programs. Other options being discussed include: a state general fund lottery, a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians expanding casino gaming in the state, not paying back the Alabama Trust Fund, various state agency consolidations, budget reform to end ear marking and combining all state revenues into one budget, and various combinations of cuts and revenue increases.
Some Republicans are expected to introduce a gambling expansion bill this week.