By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Wednesday, September 30 Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) is expected to announce how cuts to state general fund (SGF) programs will impact state services.
State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) said in a statement, “Today is the day Gov. Bentley staffers announce cutbacks to some state parks, drivers license offices, and national guard armories. But NO cuts to his own budget, governor’s aircraft fleet and personnel, governor’s entourage, political perks, and high-paid salaries. Gov. Bentley is only making cuts to things that hurt citizens and none to the politicos and bureaucracy.”
State Senator Paul Bussman (R from Cullman) said quoting from a new article that said, “Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) told reporters Monday that the General Fund budget he signed at the end of a grueling, months long battle between the executive and legislative branches could shut down state parks and drivers’ license offices, after all.” Bussman responded, “I guess the tax increases passed by the Republican super-majority were not enough, so get ready for the intentional pain I warned about – especially in the districts where we did not vote for Gov. Bentley’s tax increase. As I stated earlier, increased taxes are not the answer to a government addicted to spending. Understand that the State is broke (or so they whine), but one department just hired a FORMER LEGISLATOR to inspect storm shelters – salary $83,000 per year. This same department is threatening to close the Driver’s License offices. WOW!”
The legislature had directed that cuts be made in administrative positions in Montgomery rather than in offices out in the field. While Governor Bentley did sign the general fund budget with those conditions he later sent a letter asking the court if the legislature had violated the Alabama Constitution by limiting his executive authority. On Monday, Bentley Administration spokeswoman Jennifer Ardis said that the governor would not wait for the court and go ahead and make the cuts anyway. Gov. Bentley also objects to provisions in the budget that prevents state agency heads from building new buildings or purchasing new automobiles without getting the expenditure pre-approved by at least two of the state Finance Director, the Chairman of the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee and the Chairman of the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee.
Auditor Zeigler disputes Bentley’s claim of legal ambiguity. “It’s clear as a bell. It is illegal for Gov. Bentley is close Drivers License offices,” Zeigler said.
Bentley has said that the failure of the legislature to pass all of his proposed tax increases will require him to close all Driver License offices except for Birmingham, Mobile, Montgomery and Huntsville. Bentley has said that he will not cut Gulf State Park, Guntersville State Park, and Oak Mountain State Park. The other nineteen state parks may not be so lucky.
Zeigler said that the 2015 budget page 57, lines 4-16 reads:
“It is further the intent of the Legislature that all driver license offices and trooper posts in operation at the beginning of fiscal year 2015 remain in operation during fiscal year 2016 and that any reductions in force implemented by the agency during fiscal year 2016 focus on areas of operation not directly impacting services provided to customers.”
Zeigler said, “Even an eight-grader in Common Core history could interpret what this law means.”
Zeigler said that the Governor “is cutting services that affect normal citizens but not cutting his own budget, political perks, administrative costs, and high salaries for high politicians. “There are no plans to cut the governor’s aircraft fleet, the huge salaries and overtime of the governor’s entourage, the overhead of operating two governor’s mansions where no one lives, $150,000 a year to give away proclamations like National Possum Day, nor any other cuts to perks and politicos. I can show them exactly where they can cut, but the Montgomery insiders do not like cutting themselves.”
Zeigler has said that he is still researching legal action to block the closure of Driver License offices.
In the 2015 regular session the legislature passed an austere $1.62 billion 2016 budget that would have finally rightsized SGF expenditures to match actual revenues. Since 2008 the state has been raiding trust funds, rainy day accounts, and taking Obama administration stimulus dollars to artificially prop up the troubled general fund. That money is all gone resulting in a $200 million deficit. Additionally the state needed another $50 million to pay for prison and Medicaid reforms that in theory will lower the exorbitant growth in the two programs (the largest in the SGF); but which require some seed money to implement. That raised the cost of fully funding the SGF at 2015 levels to $250 million. After two special sessions the legislature did relent and raise taxes on cigarettes, nursing home beds, and pharmacies as well as move money from the education trust fund (ETF) over to the SGF. That was still far less than the $260 million the Governor was hoping for.
The $1.75 billion SGF budget passed by the legislature fully funds Alabama Medicaid, the Alabama Department of Corrections, the Department of Human Resources, the Court System, and prison and Medicaid reform; but cuts most of the other state agencies.