Last year, Alabama employed 37,638 workers in its state agencies, boards, courts and government offices.
This year, that number is down to 35,993, a drop of 4.4 percent. Most of this reduction was not in education areas, although some positions in the state Department of Education and two-year college system were cut.
This is not the consequence of a political strategy hatched in some right-wing think tank. There are fewer state workers doing what needs to be done because the economic downturn in which we are mired has meant there was no money to replace employees who retired or resigned. However, in the court system, mental health department and even in the once-sacrosanct Department of Agriculture and Industries, some were laid off.
As a result, according to state Personnel Director Jackie Graham, “you have agencies that are just trying to do more with less.” Therefore, Graham added, “some of the functions they normally would do may just not get done, or get done as quickly.”
Gov. Robert Bentley, who campaigned on a reduce-government platform, is being forced to look into the abyss, and he does not like what he sees.
“You can reach a critical mass where the loss of personnel really does decrease the services of the state, where people begin to notice it,” he told The Birmingham News.
Has that point been reached, a reporter asked?
“Well, we’re getting close,” the governor replied.
We may soon be there.
Federal stimulus money is almost gone. The possibility of a gridlocked Congress providing more help is remote, at best. Meanwhile, economic recovery seems far away.
We wonder what our politicians will do when “people begin to notice” how starved down the beast has become.
When all the money that can be saved has been saved, when all the loopholes that lobbyists will let be closed are closed, what then? Eventually, Alabama will have to accept the fact that we need a complete overhaul of the antiquated and inadequate tax system that was starving the Alabama beast long before that became a political buzzword. That is a must if the state is to provide residents what a modern state should provide.
Of course, that is the same tax system that legislators excluded from any constitutional reform proposals.
If the past is an indication, those who should address this issue will wring their hands and blame Washington.
That’s what we expect they will do. It would be nice to be surprised for a change.