By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Thursday, May 12, Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries, John McMillan (R), spoke to the Greater Birmingham Young Republicans (GBYRs) about the Legislature and State General Fund (SGF).
Commissioner McMillan said, that he was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 1974, and has been involved in State government in some form or another ever since.
McMillan said, that running for office is challenging and is something that everyone should do at least once in their lives, that, and serve in the military.
McMillan warned that, “The day of reckoning is coming.” In 2003, Governor Bob Riley (R) proposed that billion dollar tax package and warned, that bad things would happen if that was not passed. It was defeated, but we are yet to see the bad consequences the Governor warned about.
McMillan said, that when the General Fund got in bad shape again, then Katrina hit, that infusion of Federal dollars kept us going. In 2008, the economy faltered, and the State faced a crisis, but, all those stimulus dollars came in and propped us up for three years.
McMillan said, that every rainy day and reserve account was spent, then we started making drastic cuts. Mental Health alone has had $30 million taken from their budget.
McMillan said, that his department’s General Fund appropriation has been cut 45 percent since 2010. “We have been cut some every year since I have been there. Legislators like to say that we are level funded in the budget for 2017. That is not accurate. The Department of Agriculture and Industries has increased pension costs and healthcare costs, has to pay for merit raises, and we have to pay our portion of the STAARs accounting system next year.”
McMillan said that when he took over the department it had been run into the ground. “The roof was leaking and the air conditioning system was failing and was producing mold that was making the employees sick. We had to have $1.8 million to fix that.”
The State was running two Farmer’s Markets in Montgomery, and was losing $300,000 a year. He closed the one by Garrett coliseum and then leased it out to a private operator turning that into a $75,000 a year profit. “We tried some things with the one in West Montgomery, but eventually sold it to the City of Montgomery. The Department had over 500 cars and trucks, but over half of those had over 200,000 miles on them. We had to deal with that.” McMillan said, that he had to turn over the collecting of the gas pump inspection fees to the Department of Revenue, because they have the revenue to do it.
McMillan said, “…that while it is not his Department’s direct responsibility, my friends in Montgomery asked me to take over the Coliseum Board. We turned over management of the Coliseum to the Montgomery Kiwanis Club. They do a really good job. It took $1.5 million in repairs to keep the doors open. We hope to renovate and modernize Garrett Coliseum; but that would take about $10 to $15 million.”
McMillan said, that the State Legislature took over $200 million from the oil and gas trust fund (the Alabama Trust Fund) and then $437 million in 2012. “That was a mistake.”
McMillan said, that he was the Conservation Commissioner when we negotiated those oil and gas sales. “Governor Fob James put that money there in a trust fund, so we would make interest off of the money, and have it for the General Fund, but the legislature has tapped into the money for a variety of things, and has taken the principal away. Our General Fund would be in pretty good shape had we not done that.”
McMillan said, that the Legislature continues to dig a deeper hole. They transferred money from the Education Trust Fund. The State had a plan to move away from the fee for care system to regional care organizations. “If we put in $50 million, that would allow the State to pull down over $100 million in Federal dollars. The legislature decided to put in only a $15 million. We will probably have to call a Special Session for that. To keep from making the hard decisions, we put it off to another year. We will have to make some hard decisions someday.”
When asked if he would run for Governor in 2018, Commissioner McMillan would not definitively say whether or not he was running, but did say that he has a solid plan based on his history of being able to work in with State government.
“I intend to play a role in the election in two years.”