By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Politcal Reporter
On Monday, September 14 HB1 (sponsored by House Ways & Means General Fund Chairman Steve Clouse (R from Ozark)), received a favorable report by the Senate Finance & Taxation General Fund Committee Monday.
Senate Finance & Taxation General Fund Committee Chairman Arthur Orr (R from Decatur) said, “We have the house passed budget and what I would like to do is to move this forward for a possible vote on the floor tomorrow.”
Chairman Orr said that the Senate will craft a budget that, “Could be more than what House had.” “I don’t see that as the final vehicle.” Orr acknowledged that state Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) had an issue with the cuts his office received in the House budget.
Orr predicted that he and the legislative fiscal office (LFO) would be having a very long night.
Orr said that the State General Fund (SGF) had about $1.575 billion in already enacted revenues. The House budget level funded the Alabama Department of Corrections and added $4.5 million for prison reform. Pardons and Paroles was level funded plus an additional $11.5 million for prison reforms. Medicaid was level funded plus additional money for the Regional Care Organizations (RCOs) which were established to reform Medicaid. The provider assessments from the Pharmacy prescriptions tax and nursing home bed tax added money and got it up to $50 million for the RCOs. Orr said, “I have had a lot of conversation about it being done cheaper than that.”
The courts general fund appropriation was cut 2.5 percent. Human resources lost 2.5 percent. Mental Health saw a General Fund Appropriation cut of 4.5 percent. Most other agencies were cut 9.57 percent.
Many programs including mental health, Medicaid, the courts, agriculture etc. have earmarked appropriations that do not show up in the General Fund so sometimes the cut is overstated as some legislators have emphasized in recent conversations with the ‘Alabama Political Reporter.’
Chairman Orr said that the state Auditor was cut $500,000. “On less than a $million budget that is a very substantial cut.” Orr said that the Auditor’s cuts was 55.6 percent. “Those kind of things are before us to see if we want to keep those kinds of things in play.”
Senator Trip Pittman (R from Montrose) said that he had been listening to talk radio this morning and that the Auditor had done a good job of getting his supporters mobilized; however “The Scope and responsibilities of state auditor is not really understood by the people of this state.”
Orr said that it was his objective to fully fund the courts, forensic science, and mental health and to have a cut in the 4 percent range for everybody else.
According to new State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) the House cut would be 63 percent and would cripple his department. Zeigler said Monday that the bill cuts his budget from $1,072,000 to $400,000, a 63% cut. He says most other agencies were cut about 10%. No agencies were cut anywhere near the 63% suffered by the auditor’s office. “We cannot continue the auditing functions with a 63% cut. Just the overhead costs of rent, phones, Internet and software eat up almost the entire $400,000 and leave no auditors on staff.” “This drastic cut is not designed to save money. It is designed to quiet the State Auditor.” “I have been cutting costs the entire seven months I have been on the new job. I cut my staff 9% already. I declined my state car, state insurance, state credit card, laptop, cell phone, and marble desk plate.” “We could get by on a further 10% cut like other agencies but not 63%.”
Zeigler said, “We are asking citizens to contact their State Senators and ask them to move to amend HB1 to change the $400,000 appropriation for the State Auditor back to one million. That would still be a 7% cut in line with cuts to other agencies. We can get by on that.”
Most state General Fund agencies only received about a 10 percent. The new State Auditor has been in office only seven months, but unlike past auditors he has been active in opposing what he terms as wasteful government spending. He has opposed Gov. Robert Bentley on his threats to cut programs that affect citizens while making no cuts to his own expenses and to perks of powerful elected officials.
Jim Zeigler believes that he has angered the Montgomery establishment by opposing tax increases, exposing corruption, and also because he opposed the removal of the Wallace portraits from the capitol rotunda, the four-laning of historic North Eufaula Avenue, the threat to close 15 state parks, the use of taxpayer funds in campaigns for tax increase referendums, and the removal of Confederate items from the capitol museum gift shop.