By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Tuesday, May 19, the Alabama House of Representatives passed HB135, the General Fund Budget. The so-called austerity budget cuts most general fund programs to balance the budget. The budget addressed the estimated $261 million shortfall by cutting almost all state programs.
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) said that he was very disappointed that the House passed this budget which he called, “Unworkable.” Bentley said that hopes that the Senate will reject this budget which he has vowed to veto if it comes to his desk.
Gov. Bentley has been threatening to call a special session if the legislature refuses to raise over a half a billion dollars a year in new taxes on the people of Alabama.
State Representative Mack Butler (R-Rainbow City) said, “I’m pretty certain we are heading towards a Special Session to deal with the final outcome for the budget but this is a start.”
Gov. Bentley said on Friday, “We are facing a tremendous crisis in our General Fund Budget that will impact every Alabama County if not addressed by the 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 services 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. I encourage the Alabamians to let their elected Senators and Representatives know that these cuts will hurt the people of this State.”
Alabama Arise Citizens’ Policy Project executive director Kimble Forrister said in a statement, “The House’s budget would weaken Alabama’s economy and our future. Services like Medicaid, mental health care and child care boost our quality of life and provide the backbone for economic growth. But Alabama has cut these services to the bone in recent years, and the House budget would make the situation even worse. Children, seniors and our most vulnerable neighbors would suffer as a result.”
House Minority Leader Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) wrote, “The budget the House passed today is going to hurt a lot of people if the Senate doesn’t make some major changes. The sad part is that all of these cuts, and all the pain that will come with them, could have been avoided. We’ve known for three years that this day was coming. But in all that time, the leadership couldn’t come up with a viable solution to the budget crisis. Now it’s up to the Senators to come up with a better solution. And for the people of Alabama’s sake I hope that they do.”
Rep. John Knight (D-Montgomery) said, “The failure to responsibly fund Medicaid, Public Health, Corrections and other functions of State government, would almost certainly jeopardize the lives of Alabamians.”
Director Forrister “Alabama simply can’t afford the cuts in the no-new-revenue General Fund budget. It’s time to stop cutting the services that make our State a better, healthier place to live and to start investing in Alabama’s future.”
On Thursday, May 14, the House Ways & Means General Fund Committee passed a $1,635,317,996 General Fund budget that included no revenue bills. In 2015 the General Fund budget was $1,915,706,787. That number was vastly inflated by the 2012 raid on the Alabama Trust Fund. Prior to that the budget was propped by President Obama’s long gone stimulus funds.
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) asked for an incredible $2,300,000,000 in his 2016 budget request, based around his massive $541 million a year tax expansion.
Two weeks ago the House Ways & Means General Fund committee proposed their own much more modest $125 million tax increase package. Those proposals ran into a buzz saw of criticism from the general public and even their fellow legislators. Many Senators said that if those tax increases ever passed the House they weren’t going anywhere in the Senate. The Senate asked for a bare bones budget and now it is there’s to act on. It is expected to be in Senate Committee as early as Wednesday, May 20.
The House Budget would: cut $10,867,667 in funding for the legislature; cut $18,145,231 from the Judicial Branch; cut $2,166,698 from the Department of Agriculture and Industries; the Department of corrections were cut $27,550,665; the District Attorneys were cut $3,056,960; Emergency Management was cut $324,648; the Alabama Department of Environment Management was cut 2,036,281; Forensic Sciences was cut $2,207,256; the Forestry Commission was cut $1,548,365; the Department of Public Health was cut $64,122,326, most of that is achieved by abolishing the line item for the Chip program; the budget cuts the historical commission $744,062; Medicaid was cut $34,256,280; and mental health services were cut $5,274,822 (down $59,243,706 from the Bentley request). Most of the cuts were 9 percent across the board rather than targeting the cuts on a needs basis. Medicaid, Mental Health and Corrections were cut just five percent.
The Republican supermajority was re-elected on the promise to right-size State government to fit existing revenues and oppose any tax increases. Many legislators have signed “no new taxes” pledges to voters and believe that opposing new taxes is a point of honor.
The austere budget passed 66 to 36.