By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Wednesday, May 20, the Alabama State Troopers Association (ASTA) announced in a statement that off-duty Alabama State Troopers visited the Alabama State House that morning to express their concerns about cuts to the state’s General Fund budget for FY2016.
The President of the Alabama State Trooper Association Sargent David Steward said in a statement, “The proposed cuts to the state’s General Fund threaten the safety of all Alabamians. “We are here to urge the Legislature to pass a responsible FY2016 budget. Fewer Troopers will result in lives lost on the highways and increases in traffic crashes and injuries. We need enough funding to give us the ability to protect the citizens of Alabama.”
Governor Bentley on Friday said that if the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) General Fund appropriation that passed the House of Representatives on Tuesday actually goes into effect that ALEA will close 13 Trooper Posts including: Grove Hill, Evergreen, Dothan, Selma, Opelika, Alexander City, Jacksonville, Gadsden, Huntsville, Quad Cities, Hamilton, Tuscaloosa, and Troy. Governor Bentley has previously estimated that over 100 Alabama State Troopers would be eliminated.
The ASTA said that those layoffs for Troopers and ALEA support personnel will result in longer waits at Driver License examining offices and other ALEA services.
Sargent Steward said, “A 2014 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed that the economic loss attributed to motor vehicle crashes in the United States is $871 billion annually. Can we really afford not to fund our State Troopers?”
The House budget cuts $204 million from the 2015 fiscal year budget, largely due to the running out of one time money from the 2012 trust fund raid. On Wednesday, Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Chairman Arthur Orr (R from Decatur) told his committee, “My hope is we’ll look at other options and not just pass the House-passed version,” By not passing the budget out of Committee on Wednesday, Orr likely burned two legislative days (Thursday, May 21 and Tuesday, May 26). If the Committee can get their act together and manages to pass some sort of a general fund budget on Wednesday, May 27 and if the Senate can pass that budget on Thursday, May 28 the two Houses would just have just a handful of legislative days to resolve any differences between the two budgets and override an expected veto by Governor Robert Bentley before times runs out on this legislative session.
The Troopers were joined in their lobbying efforts by ALEA Secretary Spencer Collier.
The Troopers point to a study conducted by the University of Alabama’s Center for Advanced Public Safety (CAPS), which is independent of ALEA, that recommended there be 1,016 Troopers, including field supervisors assigned to Alabama roads. For comparison, in 2014, there were 289 Troopers assigned to the Highway Patrol Division. By consolidating the various state law enforcement agencies, ALEA has reallocated personnel to get 431 Troopers now on the road.
Some conservatives are questioning why the legislature is talking about across the board cuts instead of setting spending priorities, protecting essential services like courts, troopers, and prisons and gutting or eliminating nonessential state services.
Alabama Policy Institute (API) Vice President Katherine Robinson wrote recently, “There is a pressing need for leadership in the discipline of priority budgeting now, but more importantly, for the long-term. Going forward, the legislature (ideally, with help from the Executive Branch) should develop a set of fixed priorities and performance-based metrics for government agencies and offices. That way, whether there is a surplus or a shortfall in the future, there is some methodical basis on which legislators can make their spending decisions.”
Whatever budget is passed it likely won’t have anything close to the $541 million in tax increases that Governor Robert Bentley is demanding making a special session practically unavoidable.