By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Wednesday, September 30, long threatened cuts to state facilities were announced by State agencies. Most of the cuts targeted rural areas of the State; although in a surprise move Huntsville also lost its armory.
State agencies added six additional National Guard armories to the two that have already been shut down and the 13 already on the closing list. Five State Parks (all in rural counties) were closed. Others will see reduced hours and days of operations. 31 driver’s license offices will be closed.
Small rural counties were especially hard hit. Choctaw County lost a driver’s license office and Bladon Springs State Park; Marengo County lost both the Demopolis National Guard Armory and Chickasaw State Park; Wilcox County lost their driver’s license office, the Camden Armory, and Roland Cooper State Park; Dallas County lost Paul M. Grist State Park; Covington County lost Florala State Park; Perry County lost both the Marion Armory and the Marion Driver’s License office; Geneva County lost both their driver’s license office and their armory; Tallapoosa County lost the driver’s license offices in both Alexander City and Dadeville as well as the Armory in Alexander City.
Senator Paul Bussman said in a statement, “It is sad to say, but the government inflicted punishment for not raising more of your taxes has begun. 31 Drivers License offices in RURAL Alabama will be closed. So it appears that those citizens in RURAL Alabama are not deserving of State services. Let me tell you how outrageous this is and I will use their numbers, confirmed by our Legislative Fiscal Office to make the point.”
Sen. Bussman said, “The legislature cut ALEA by $12 Million dollars (their number, not mine: LFO numbers are much lower than that). They are not laying off the DL employees, they are simply making them stay in the district offices. How much did that save ALEA? To travel to the rural offices, the DL employee would get $11 per diem for the day. Let’s say it costs $29 in fuel (which should be a high estimate). That totals $40. They go to the rural offices once a week. That would be 52 weeks times $40 which equals $2080. Then multiply $2080 times the 31 rural offices and you get $64,480. SO, THE FIRST BIG announcement ALEA makes to fix a $12 Million dollar shortfall is to inflict pain and cut rural services to you for a grand total savings of one half of one percent (0.5%) of the shortfall!!! They have 99.5% left to fix but you the public get it first. Even if my numbers are a little low, it is still ridiculous.”
Sen. Bussman said, “Let’s not forget that ALEA recently raised your DL fees (and bypassed the legislature to do it) which will increase their revenue by $22 million dollars. So they raised your fees by $22M this year, we cut them $12M, which means they have $10M more dollars than they did last year. AND they still are not satisfied.”
State Representative Dario Melton (D-Selma) said, “Whether the methods to reach a solution were right or wrong, the Legislature reached a solution and put $166 million new dollars into the general fund–$86 million from new taxes and $80 million transferred from the Education Trust Fund through the Use Tax. Yet Bentley announced today that he is moving forward with his plans to close state parks and driver’s license offices across Alabama, regardless of the new revenue in the General Fund Budget.”
Rep. Melton continued, “Governor Bentley, you owe us an explanation. You stood at the podium and gave the people of Alabama your word, telling us that these tax increases were necessary to prevent closures. But the closures are here, despite the $166 million new dollars in the General Fund Budget. Why have you now gone back on your word? You got your money–with $10 million to spare–now it’s time for you to uphold your end of the bargain and keep these important state services open. If the budget wasn’t drafted to your satisfaction, you had the option to veto it. It’s unexplainable to resort to going back on your word.”
Sen. Bussman said, “I hope my colleagues that voted for more taxes now realize that the government will never have enough to satisfy their addiction to spending. This is not good government and I will continue to try and change the way we do business in Montgomery.”
The Alabama National Guard announced that 19 armories will be closed by 2017. The Alabama National Guard has already closed armories in Albertville and Monroeville. The thirteen armories to be closed under the master plan include: Sheffield, Scottsboro, Vernon, Jasper, Aliceville, Sylacauga, Camden, Fort Deposit, Jackson, Brantley, Elba, Geneva, and Hartford. Huntsville, Winfield, Alexander City, Demopolis, Marion, and Eufaula were all added to the list on Wednesday.
The Alabama National Guard said in a statement, “Years of sustained funding shortfalls for the Alabama National Guard operations and maintenance budget have reached a critical juncture. The State of Alabama and the Federal government operate the National Guard on a Master Cooperative Agreement (MCA) which obligates a cost sharing framework for National Guard Armories throughout the state. The typical cost sharing relationship in armories requires a 50/50 share between State and Federal funds. The Alabama National Guard “Twenty Five Year Master Plan” defines the objective number, size, and location of armories throughout the state to meet current and future requirements for the Guard. This master plan in coordination with National Guard Bureau is dependent upon a state budget that is consistent and funded to an adequate level for investment to construct new facilities and sustain, restore and modernize existing facilities to Army standards.”
The armories will close over the next three years.
The 31 driver’s license offices being closed only issue five percent of the driver’s licenses in the State of Alabama.
The Legislature had included wording in the budget restricting the Administration’s ability to unilaterally close driver’s license offices and state parks. Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) signed that budget but last week asked the Alabama Supreme Court for an opinion on the constitutionality of those provisions in the budget. On Monday the administration announced they were going ahead without the court. On Wednesday, the Alabama Supreme Court announced that the court has declined to review Governor Bentley’s letter. This is likely headed to litigation.
Governor Bentley said in a statement on Twitter Wednesday, “Economic development is my top priority. With great partnerships at the Federal, State & Local level, we are moving AL forward.”