By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Tuesday, May 19, the Alabama House of Representatives is expected to review and debate the General Fund Budget when the legislature reconvenes. Last week the House Republicans unveiled an austerity budget with cuts to State agencies. On Monday, members of the House Black Caucus announced their own alternative strategy to fund State services. Like the GOP’s budget, it does not have any revenue measures and makes deep cuts to numerous General Fund agencies; but it cuts much more deeply into several agencies in order, “To protect the State’s health, safety and human service agencies.”
The Chairman of the House Black Caucus, State Representative John Knight (D-Montgomery) said, “Calls from the Governor to raise revenue for the General Fund have gone unanswered. It has become clear that leadership in developing a solution to generate revenue to responsibly fund state government is unlikely from the Legislature’s super majority during this session. As a consequence, many crucial or life-saving services for working families and those most vulnerable in our communities may be traded to preserve corporate profits and the interests of the wealthiest Alabamians. Many of the entities that have benefitted from multi-million-dollar tax breaks and incentives are now opposed to conservative efforts to raise revenue to fund State government.”
The House Black Caucus said that the GOP Budget is an arbitrary slash-and-cut technique that eliminates more than $280 million in funding from agencies and threatens devastating impact on health care and social services.
Rep. Knight said, “The failure to responsibly fund Medicaid, Public Health, Corrections and other functions of state government, would almost certainly jeopardize the lives of Alabamians. This is simply not an option. Our proposal makes difficult and possibly unpopular recommendations, but if it means saving and, in some cases improving the quality of life in this state – we can live with that.”
The Black Caucus plan cuts funding for the legislature by over $8 million, $3.4 million more than the GOP budget. The plan leaves the proposed $16 million cuts to the courts and to the Department of Mental Health. Their plan cuts another $1 million from the Department of Agriculture and Industries for a total of almost $3.2 million from a $9.6 million 2015 budget. The Black Democrats propose completely eliminating general fund appropriations for the Department of Archives and History, the Forestry Commission, the Geologic Survey and all but $8,700 for the Alabama Trust Fund Board (down from $15 million in both the Governor’s and House GOP budgets). The Black House Democrats also proposed slashing the budgets of the attorney general, the auditor, emergency management and ADECA by 26.46 percent, 38.71 percent, 31.77 percent and 20.94 percent more than the already substantial cuts in the GOP plan.
The plan also calls for removing earmarks. Rep. Knight explained the funding strategy, “Black Caucus members felt strongly that life, health and safety must be established as priorities in any responsible public budget. Millions of dollars in state revenue have gone mostly unnoticed — earmarked in agency budgets. After taking a closer look, we are confident these funds can be used more efficiently for broader agency and government operations.
The cuts allow the Democrats to level fund the Department of Corrections, level fund Alabama Medicaid, and adds $4.8 million to the Department of Public Health.
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley is still campaigning for $541 million in tax increases. That plan appears unlikely to be introduced on the floor of the House. A more modest tax increase package was pulled from the calendar last week due to lack of support.