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State’s voters say ‘yes’

Alabama voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved the transfer of more than $437 billion from the Alabama Trust Fund to the state’s General Fund.

The money, which will be transferred over three years, will be used to support the court system, prisons, Medicaid and other non-education areas of government.

“I want to thank the voters for approving the state’s plan to temporarily borrow funds from our savings account to help get us through these difficult economic times without raising taxes,” Gov. Robert Bentley said in a statement.

Sixty-five percent of voters approved of using money from the state’s trust fund to help avoid more budget cuts. In Butler County there were 2,736 “yes” votes to 973 “no” votes.

With the passing of the referendum, which allows for the transfer for $145.8 million a year for the next three fiscal years, the General Fund is budgeted to spend nearly $1.7 billion in fiscal year 2013, a cut of $36.2 million from this year’s expected General Fund spending.

A large portion of that money will go toward funding Medicaid, which provides health care for nearly 1 million Alabamians, and the corrections department, which runs state prisons.

With the approval of the referendum, General Fund spending for Medicaid in fiscal year 2013 is budgeted at $615.1 million, an increase of $39.7 million from this year, while spending for the corrections department is budgeted at $365.5 million, a decrease of $15.3 million from this year.

Mark Kennedy, chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, criticized the state’s lawmakers for even allowing the vote.

“It is an absolute disgrace that rather than simply doing the only job they are constitutionally mandated to do, Republican legislators not only shirked their responsibility but gave the people of Alabama only two options — to see their neighbors suffer or to see the state’s savings account depleted,” Kennedy said in a statement.

Bentley has promised that the money borrowed from the trust fund will be paid back.

“Once again, I pledge to the people of this state that the funds transferred to help support critical state services will be paid back,” he said in his statement.

The legislation passed on Tuesday does not require lawmakers to repay the money, but a number of the state’s lawmakers have said they will support legislation in 2013 that requires repayment.

Sen. Bryan Taylor pre-filed a bill that would require the funds be returned to the Alabama Trust Fund over a 10-year period.

“Everyone seems to agree that every dime withdrawn from our state savings account ought to be paid back.” Taylor said. “So I decided, let’s put it in writing. That’s what this bill does.  It’s not just a handshake.  Every last dime will be repaid by law.”