Governor wastes no time cutting budget

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 13, 2003

On Thursday and Friday, Gov. Bob Riley kept his promise to cut costs, and the ax fell heavily.

Now, his proposed cuts move to the Legislature, where a General Fund budget and an Education budget must be approved by Oct. 1.

Rep. Charles Newton said on Thursday, the legislature faces a monumental task because the revenue shortfall is so great.

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&uot;From what I understand, the governor plans to make dramatic cuts from both budgets,&uot; he said.

&uot;It will be tough.&uot;

Newton said most likely the state would cut funding to non-state agencies first. On Friday morning, the governor’s finance director released the proposed budgets, and as Newton predicted, those cuts came.

Riley wants to cut the legislative budget by 26.29 percent that equals to $11.5 million in fiscal year 2003-2004.

He plans to cut the state’s judicial portion of the General Fund by 9.9 percent or $14.6 million.

His own branch of the government under this proposed budget would see an overall 3.73 percent drop or roughly $37.4 million.

One department in the executive budget includes the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs that loses $8 million in the proposed cuts.

All non-state agencies would lose funding that makes up 5.26 percent of the General Fund.

This equals approximately $66.7 million.

Under the plan, the Alabama State Trooper Academy will close and existing troopers will only work four days at a time and be allowed to travel only 150 miles per day.

Also, criminal trials will take longer as he proposes cutbacks to the Attorney General’s office as well as local district attorney offices.

Funding for recruiting industry to rural areas will also be stripped.

There are no funds included for a new early warning siren system or for the Civil Air Patrol.

Also, immunization funding at the state’s health departments will be cut.

Dr. Donald Williamson, state health officer said the shortfall would hurt numerous areas in the state health system.

&uot;The Alabama Department of Public Health is planning reductions based on projections provided by the state finance director’s office,&uot; he said.

One of those reductions as reported Friday includes flu shots.

However, Butler County Health Department Administrator Ziba Anderson said vaccinations for the upcoming flu season are already in place.

&uot;We already have the flu vaccine for the year,&uot; he said. &uot;It has been ordered in advance and paid for in the current fiscal year.&uot;

Anderson went on to say that if in the future, the flu vaccines aren’t available at the health department; private doctors can also administer the shots.

He went on to say that Williamson called the administrators to Montgomery to meet on Monday and more details will be available following that meeting.

Some well known non-state agencies facing cuts includes:

the AIDS Task Force, the Autism Society, Coalition on Domestic Violence, the Kidney Foundation, the Prevent Child Abuse Alabama, the Helen Keller Institute, Camp ASSCA, the Alabama Junior Miss and America’s Junior Miss.

The governor’s budget ax did not just stop with the General Fund.

He made numerous cuts to the state’s education budget.

Riley proposed to cut funding for new textbooks, at-risk programs, classroom supplies and teacher training.

He plans to cut all state funding for the American Legion scholarship program, all dental scholarships, the Alabama Young Farmers Education Program, medical scholarships, Soil and Water Conservation program and the Sports Hall of Fame.

State universities also will be hit hard. Private schools such as Lyman Ward, Marion Military Institute, Talladega College and Tuskegee University will get no state funding.

All agree, funding must be found quickly since voters turned down the tax increase.

One lawmaker, Rep. Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery, plans to propose a state lottery during the Legislature’s special session this week to offset the shortfall.

&uot;We have no tax base or nothing, so we’ve got to get the money from somewhere,&uot; Holmes said.

He cited people traveling to Georgia and Florida to buy lottery tickets.

Tennessee just approved a lottery this year, while Mississippi has casino gambling.

Holmes plans to introduce a lottery bill 15 minutes after the special session opens.

Newton said Holmes’ plan is likely dead on arrival.

&uot;I have gathered from the governor that any other revenue proposals will not be given priority,&uot; he said.

&uot;I think we will be charged with getting a General Fund budget and an Education budget out by Oct. 1.&uot;

Newton said a lottery proposal isn’t likely to pass or help the state now because surrounding states already have them in place, and Mississippi has casino gambling as a revenue tax base.

&uot;If we had a lottery, the revenue generated would be much less than it would have been if approved before,&uot; he said.

Newton said he understands a lottery would generate approximately $100 million dollars for the state coffers.

However, the state faces a $675 million shortfall.

While $100 million in lottery revenue would help, services would still be cut.