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Budget Passed, Crisis Averted, Few Happy with Outcome

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

On Wednesday, September 16, 2015, the 2016 fiscal year General Fund Budget (GFB) passed.  The Governor had wanted to pass Draconian tax increases on the people of Alabama to deal with the shortfall.  Some Legislators wanted to balance the budget with massive cuts to the State General Fund (SGF) programs.  Still others wanted to balance the budget by raiding the Education Trust Fund (ETF).  At the end of the day it was a combination of some very modest tax increases, modest cuts that avoided the elephants in the room (Medicaid and prisons) and a more modest ETF raid.  The legislature avoided more ambitious proposals like a permanent 78:22 split of available funds between the ETF and the GFB; un-earmarking some of the $billions that are outside the budgeting process, or a lottery and expansion of legalized gambling in the State

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley said in a statement, “We have made tremendous progress to fundamentally change the way our State budgets. Tonight is an important step forward in that process. I commend House and Senate members, including Speaker Hubbard, Pro Tem Marsh and Budget Chairmen Clouse and Orr, for prioritizing people over politics. I also want to thank members of the House and Senate who courageously voted to increase revenue for the GFB.  I will carefully review the budget once it is received by my office, and I expect to sign it.”

State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) said in his own statement, “This is an imperfect budget and an imperfect process in an imperfect economy. But there will be a budget come October 1, and there will continue to be an effective State Auditor’s office — thanks to all of you who spoke up.”  Zeigler’s enemies in the GOP establishment had sought to use the budgeting process to strip the Auditor of most of his office’s funding.  Zeigler appealed to his many supporters across the State and the Senate restored most of the Auditor’s funding. Zeigler said, “It looks like we dodged a bullet. This was enabled by the hundreds (maybe thousands) of citizens like you who quickly contacted your legislators. It was enabled by those legislators who heard the voice of the people.”  While the auditor’s office was not cut by the 63 percent like it was in the budget that passed the House, Zeigler still received a $270,000 cut.

State Representative Christopher John England (D-Tuscaloosa) wrote, “Agencies that managed to avoid being cut are DHR, Medicaid, the Court System, DOC (Department of Corrections), Pardons and Paroles, and Mental Health. Other agencies have been cut to varying degrees.”

State Senator Paul Bussman (R-Cullman) was one of the nine Senators who tried to stop the tax increases.  Sen. Bussman said on Facebook, “It’s been a tough week in Montgomery. Republicans, who chant low taxes and smaller government, violated that pledge last night and passed a tax increase on the citizens of AL. Myself and a very small group of true conservatives were unable to stop the tax increase train. Sad to see the highly acclaimed “Super Majority” collapse when tested. And we wonder why the people don’t trust their elected officials. Discouraged but not defeated. This small group of 9 will regroup and continue to fight for the citizens of AL.”

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State Representative Mack Butler (R-Rainbow City) said in a statement, “We have passed the General Fund Budget (finally). The take away is we reformed one issue by moving a growth component to the general fund. We cut most agencies (more reform) and raised taxes on cigarettes. We also passed an industry supported tax on Medicaid providers. Keep in mind that the Medicaid provider tax is paid by the provider and they supported it. Most will actually pull down more federal dollars this way that could have gone to another state but this way come to Alabama. The big 5 agencies will be level funded while the rest get an approximate 5% cut. The governor will sign this budget that puts approximately 156 million more dollars into the general fund. Please keep in mind that the governor started out wanting 700 million new dollars. This is a budget we can live with and will keep Alabama on the move.”

Alabama Arise Citizens’ Policy Project executive director Kimble Forrister issued a written statement: “Barely scraping by for another year is no cause for celebration. Alabama is still shortchanging needed investments in education, health care, child care, public safety and other services that make our state a better place to live and work. We must end the cycle of shortfalls and find lasting, progressive funding solutions for these important services.”

Director Forrister wrote, “Moving growth revenue to the General Fund while protecting education funding was a positive step. It was also promising to see a bright light shined on Alabama’s fundamental budget problems. But our leaders still need to do far more to raise revenue to provide stable, adequate support for services that help working families get ahead. Ending the numerous tax breaks that favor wealthy people and large corporations would be a great place to start.”  “Alabama can’t afford more damaging cuts. We need to do better by our children, our seniors and our most vulnerable neighbors. It’s time to fix the state’s upside-down tax system and invest in Alabama’s future.”

House Minority Leader Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) said, “In a special legislative session where their options were to either raise taxes, cut services or raid education, the Republicans in the Alabama Legislature somehow managed to do all three and still not solve the long-term problems in the budget.”

 

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