Legislators looking at cuts if amendment fails
by Patrick McCreless
pmccreless@annistonstar.com
Sep 14, 2012 | 5470 views |  0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery (file photo)
The Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery (file photo)
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Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, isn’t merely hoping voters will agree Tuesday to take $437 million from a state trust fund to shore up Alabama’s budget.

He is actively encouraging them to do so.

“Anytime I’ve been asked to speak to a group I always bring it up and talk about it,” the Senate president pro tem said. “I acknowledge that I support it and I am actively encouraging voters to support it.”

A constitutional amendment referendum is the means through which Alabama voters will state their preference Tuesday on whether $145.8 million is transferred each year for three years from the Alabama Trust Fund to the state’s General Fund. If voters do not approve it, Marsh and other local legislators instead expect a special legislative session and severe cuts across many state services — from Medicaid and mental health to the Department of Corrections.

Alabama Legislature records show all local lawmakers voted for the amendment bill.

Marsh said Gov. Robert Bentley could just declare proration if the amendment fails to pass. However, he expects Bentley to call a special legislative session to avoid across-the-board cuts to the budget prior to the start of the new fiscal year Oct. 1. Marsh said he would rather not cut Medicaid — which serves poor, elderly and disabled residents — or the prison system and risk having to release prisoners early.

“So when you want to protect those most in need and keep prisoners incarcerated, that means all other state agencies not involved with those two will be cut severely,” Marsh said.

Marsh added that raising taxes to address the budget’s shortfalls will not be an option, adding that many of his fellow Republicans pledged they would not increase taxes.

“And it’s just not the move to make, the way the economy is,” Marsh said.

Rep. K.L. Brown, R-Jacksonville, said he has mixed feelings about the amendment.

“Part of me says it’s putting a Band-Aid on the problem that will keep occurring,” Brown said. “But if it doesn’t pass, it will be a very adverse situation.”

Brown said he also expects Bentley to call a special session almost immediately after the vote if the amendment fails.

“I think there will be some drastic across-the-board cuts,” Brown said. “Some state departments have already been cut considerably, that’s why I think we should shore them up.”

Jeremy King, spokesman for Bentley, said the governor has so far not committed to calling a special session if the amendment fails.

“There is no definite plan for a special session right now,” King said. “But he’s not ruling it out at this point.”

Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, said he expects Bentley to declare proration if the amendment does not pass.

“Once the governor determines after Oct. 1 that there is not enough money coming in … he’ll have to turn around and declare 15 percent to 17 percent proration,” Dial said.

Dial said without the amendment, any Medicaid budget cuts might devastate many rural hospitals since they receive more Medicaid funding than urban hospitals do.

Dial noted that since Bentley is against raising taxes, it is extremely unlikely the Legislature will bring the option up for debate.

“It would be ridiculous for the Legislature to force that through since he has no real interest in creating new taxes,” Dial said.

Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston, said she supported the amendment.

“It’s better than having to come back and have to cut more programs and do it in a special session,” Boyd said. “And in reality, if it doesn’t pass, a special session will have to be called.”

Like Marsh and Dial, Boyd is resistant to raising taxes to fix the budget problems.

“I don’t want us to start drawing again from the Education Trust Fund and I want to avoid new taxes,” Boyd said.

Rep. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, said every option is on the table except new taxes. However, Wood thinks the Legislature will not be called back because he believes voters will support the amendment.

“I think they realize the financial conditions we are in,” Wood said.

Star staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star

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