State awaits results of $437 million referendum
by Phillip Rawls
Associated Press
Sep 18, 2012 | 6137 views |  0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
No voters were visible at the Anniston City Meeting Center at mid-morning. On the ballot today is an amendment to the state constitution that would allow the government to take $437 million out of a state trust fund to help balance the state General Fund budget for the next three years. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
No voters were visible at the Anniston City Meeting Center at mid-morning. On the ballot today is an amendment to the state constitution that would allow the government to take $437 million out of a state trust fund to help balance the state General Fund budget for the next three years. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
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Polls have closed across Alabama, and now the state will wait to see whether voters approved or rejected a measure to take $437 million out of a state trust fund to help balance the state General Fund budget for the next three years.

Election officials said turnout was light for today’s election on the constitutional amendment. Officials said voting picked up between rain showers, but there were never lines. Turnout estimates by county election officials varied from 10 percent to 25 percent. Pike County Probate Judge Wes Allen called it typical for a single-issue election.

In Jacksonville, 40 voters had cast ballots by about 8 a.m. at the First Baptist Church, an hour after the polls opened. By roughly that time on municipal election day Aug. 28, about 120 people had voted.

By midday at Anniston’s Greater Thankful Baptist Church, 25 voters had cast ballots. At the South Highland Community Center the number was about 50 shortly after 11 a.m., according to a poll worker.

The Legislature left it up to voters to decide whether to withdraw the money from the Alabama Trust Fund or face deep cuts of 12 percent or more for the $1.7 billion General Fund budget that takes effect Oct. 1. The proposed constitutional amendment would take the money from a trust fund set up 30 years ago to receive the state's royalties from natural gas wells drilled off the Alabama coast.

The Legislature set the special election in time for the governor to call an emergency session of the Legislature if the issue failed, but Gov. Robert Bentley said he wouldn't support any new taxes to fill a budget gap.

Amanda Reed, a 32-year-old emergency room technician from Montgomery, said she was swayed by arguments that failure of the referendum would lead to dramatic cuts in state health care programs and possibly the closure of some hospitals and nursing homes.

"As medical professionals we are our patients' advocates. This is a good way to show we are their advocates," she said.

Barbara Gore, a 62-year-old former real estate agent from Alabaster, said she voted no because state officials should do a better job of eliminating waste before dipping into savings. She cited the special election as an example of waste.

"It cost them $3 million just to do this," she said.

Julian Elmore, a 64-year-old retired state employee from Montgomery, voted no because the constitutional amendment didn't require the repayment of the money and he was skeptical about promises by some state officials to repay the money over a decade.

"I've been around these guys long enough not to trust them to do something down the road to pay it back," he said.

Erica Reed, a 33-year-old preschool teacher at an Air Force base in Montgomery, carried her 5-week-old daughter to the polls to cast a yes vote.

Reed said she was concerned about predictions of massive cuts in state social services, including medical care, and layoffs among state workers and private sector employees who provide those services. "It's hard enough to find a job nowadays anyway, and this would cause hundreds of people to lose their jobs," she said.

The referendum drew support from the Republican governor, Republican leaders of the Legislature and many of the top associations in Montgomery, including the Business Council of Alabama, Alabama Education Association, and Alabama Nursing Home Association.

Opposing it were some Tea Party groups, the Alabama Federation of Republican Women, Eagle Forum of Alabama and House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden.

Proponents reported spending about $1 million for their campaign, while opponents reported less than one-tenth as much.

Star staff contributed reporting for this article.
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