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Medicaid still in need of funds

Budget hearings began this week in the Alabama Legislature, and the information shared by the individuals in charge of state funds was not good.

One of the lead presenters made the statement that &uot;we are confronted with the most dire financial situation that state government has faced in decades.&uot;

It is commonplace that the Governor’s office and the Legislative Fiscal Office take two or three weeks prior to the convening of a regular legislative session to present facts and information relating to state finances.

There are also other state agencies who share information such as the Treasurer’s office, the Department of Education and the Retirement Systems of Alabama.

Dr. David Bronner, Chief of the Retirement Systems, stated that at least $170 million in new taxes will be necessary to maintain the general fund at its present spending level in 2004.

The State Superintendent of Education suggested that more than $1 billion is needed for public education.

Both the Governor’s office and the Legislative Fiscal Office are giving more conservative estimates but none fall below $500 million total between the two budgets for 2004 and subsequent years.

Some of the &uot;older heads&uot; who hang around the Capitol have voiced the opinion that not since B.M. Miller became governor in 1931, during the depths of the Great Depression, has our state been so out of proportion with respect to spending and income.

If you will think about the vast number of new programs which have been added since the days of the Great Depression, both at the state and federal levels, then you might visualize how such a problem has actually magnified many times over.

The Medicaid program will need $100 million in new money just to maintain services at the present level.

Our state prisons are so overcrowded that corrections officials have refused to take all the state prisoners from the counties, with the result that county jails are severely overcrowded.

Last week, there was a law suit filed against Tutwiler Prison for Women and the judge concluded that the state had not offered a sufficient remedy to avoid a federal takeover of that prison.

I am told by officers in the Department of Human of Resources that there is a need for many more workers in order to keep at-risk children from being further exposed to danger, that foster care parents are inadequately compensated, and that health care for our children is a continuing crisis.

Just a few days ago Governor Bob Riley had to make a special appropriation to Jefferson County in order to keep troopers on the highways to protect the public.

There are many other areas in our state where additional troopers are needed.

The only bright spot in our state agencies appears to be that of the Department of Transportation.

This department has paved more roads and replaced more bridges in the last five years than at any time in the history of our state, with the exception of the farm-to-market paving

programs in the forties and fifties.

However, this is not a credit to state government as much as it is to federal funds which have flowed very freely to Alabama since United States Senator Richard Shelby became chairman of the Senate sub-committee on Transportation of the Appropriations Committee.

Proration is an ugly term which I hope will not be used again during my tenure in the Senate.

There is a possibility, however, that we will not meet our K-12 needs nor our higher education needs this current fiscal year.

All of this has significant negative implications for the education of students and the economic development of our state.

We have all heard the expression, misery loves company.

Alabama is not the only state in the nation to be in a financial crisis, but it does not ease the pain that there are many other states similarly situated.

Much of this has come about because of the faltering national economy, and now you can add to that the prospect of war.

This will probably cause further deficits to increase and have negative implications for all states, especially in the short run.

As a legislator representing you, I will do my best to see that our funds are spent wisely.

I will also be assessing very carefully any proposals for new revenues.

In the meantime, if you have any suggestions with respect to solving our financial crisis, I will welcome your ideas and recommendations.

Remember, &uot;I’ll go with you or I’ll go for you&uot; to help you solve any problem related to state government.

Senator Wendell Mitchell can be reached at 334-242-7883, or by writing to P O Box 225, Luverne, Alabama 36049.