In early 2011, Alabama’s newly elected governor stepped into office in the middle of a budget crisis. Large Republican majorities in the state Senate and House and Gov. Robert Bentley faced tough decisions on funding priorities on the first day of their terms.
A sluggish economy and an upside-down tax system squeezed state government’s bank account to a point of extreme discomfort. Without more money, the next year’s state budget would start cutting into essential services like public safety.
The money shortage wasn’t unusual for Alabama, where an allergy to tax increases is a sure way to get and stay in elected office. Our so-called leaders usually pretend we don’t really want the things we can’t afford. “More money won’t fix our schools,” they declare as an excuse to keep our education budget under-funded.
The difference at the start of this decade was where the budget pain might land. We were past scaling back on the easiest cuts and were headed straight for things like state crime labs and courthouse staffing, operations dedicated to public safety and law and order.
Bentley and the Legislature’s Republican majorities faced a challenge: 1. Ask for more money and risk angering the state’s powerful special interests, aka the Big Mules. 2. Start closing state offices deeply involved in law enforcement and hope for the best.
They chose option No. 2. As a result, the state shuttered several regional crime labs, including the one at McClellan. The move added workload to the state crime lab in Hoover and forced local police officers to spend more time transporting evidence.
As this space noted at the time, Gov. Bentley and lawmakers who OK’d these budget cuts were playing with fire. They would own the consequences of their reckless budgeting.
Earlier this month, Calhoun County District Attorney Brian McVeigh learned that the state forensics lab lost drug-crime evidence. As a result, three local residents will have drug charges against them dropped.
Mistakes will happen, but it’s not too much of a stretch to wonder if state cutbacks on crime labs played a role in this blunder.