By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Stan Stabler left lawmakers at a joint budget committee hearing on Tuesday flabbergasted, when he requested to more than double the agency’s budget in 2017.
It took Stabler until nearly the end of his lengthy presentation before he revealed to legislators that ALEA needs to push its request from the $44 million it received in 2017 to $104 million in 2018. When he did, the figure was met with dismay.
“Wait, how much of that is from the General Fund?” Senate budget chairman Trip Pittman asked. When Stabler informed him it was the entire amount, Pittman followed up.
“Have you had a conversation with the finance director about this?” Pittman asked. “I don’t think they’re aware that you’re asking for this. From what I recall, you were seeking level funding in the numbers they have.”
Outside of the meeting, Stabler told reporters that level funding for ALEA would be “very detrimental” for the agency.
There is little doubt that ALEA has money issues.
Stabler provided charts showing a 30-percent decrease in state troopers, a decline he believes caused a 25-percent uptick in traffic fatalities around the state in 2016. Stabler said it was the lowest number of troopers on the road in history – less than 250 troopers patrolling.
In addition, several lawmakers recounted conversations they’ve had recently with troopers and other ALEA employees and the complaints many of them had. Among them were complaints about old tires on patrol cars and expired body armor.
Rep. Connie Rowe grilled Stabler on the expenses of the department and asked pointed questions about allegations of misspent money within the agency. Rowe’s questions stemmed from allegations raised last year during the upheaval over former secretary Spencer Collier’s ouster by Gov. Robert Bentley.
At the time of Collier’s removal – as he was alleging improper acts by the governor related to an inappropriate relationship he was carrying on with a staffer – the Alabama Attorney General’s Office began investigating ALEA’s books, looking for misappropriated money.
Pressed repeatedly by Rowe – who at one point told Stabler that she was “giving you one final opportunity” – to explain those allegations and what became of them, Stabler eventually conceded that they “faded.”
In reality, the AG’s office cleared Collier of wrongdoing. He was appointed on Monday as the new police chief in Selma.
Stabler did offer that ALEA is now monitoring per diem requests more closely and ensuring they’re necessary. Asked by Rowe if that was part of the problem, Stabler said it was.
As for his increased budget request, lawmakers seemed skeptical.
“I’ve looked through the handouts you gave us, and I guess I’m a little confused,” Rep. Rich Wingo told Stabler. “I don’t see anything in here that adds up to $104 million. Where did that number come from?”