Budget work is underway

Published 7:45 pm Wednesday, September 17, 2003

By Staff
Rep. Greg Albritton not sure how final plan will look
By BILL CRIST Publisher
State legislators were called into special session on Monday, and according to Rep. Greg Albritton (R) who represents the 64th district which includes Escambia County, there is still some question as to whether or not the governor's proposed budget will pass through intact.
The fear, he says, is that as soon as one group sucessfully restores total or partial funds, other groups will demand the same.
In a televised address to congress on Monday night, Gov. Bob Riley touched on broad cuts that would reach into nearly every branch and department within the state's government.
And while the cuts he outlined were severe, several legislators are not sure how the numbers add up.
According to Riley's proposed budget, the Education Trust Fund will see cuts of $10.4 million, which represents a decrease of .25 percent over the previous year's allocation. The general fund will see a decrease of 5.25 percent, which translates to $66.7 million less than last year. Riley uses prior-year revenue figures in his proposed budget.
Brewton City School Superintendent said that although the actual reduced allocation may be minimal, what it doesn't take into account, when compared to last year, is the increased expenses related mainly to personnel.
Smith said that pay increases, such as the state's mandated three-percent raise last year, while good for the teachers, were often passed without any plan for generating the revenue to pay for them.
Albritton said that it appeared to him that most members of the Black Caucus boycotted the governor's address.
The governor's proposed budget would elminate all state funding for four private colleges and universities, including Tuskegee University, which will lose $4.7 million under the proposal.
Albritton said Tuesday was filled with public hearings on both the general and education trust funds and that on Wednesday, committees will begin meeting to decide on proposals to bring to the floor.
That floor activity will take place on Thursday, when the session is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.
One general fund item that Albritton said could have a profound impact on his district is a reduction in funds for rural fire departments.
Last year rural volunteer fire departments received $2.48 million in state funds. Riley's proposal has eliminated all state funding for the departments.
However, not all departments are seeing cuts. The Department of Corrections will see an increase of $16 million in state funding in the coming year. Other departments to see increased funding from the general fund include the Dept. of Forensic Sciences, $2 million increase; the Governor's Task Force On Military Affairs will increase $120,000 and the CHIP program in the Health Dept. will increase $6.3 million.
Two lines of the Education Trust Fund that see a sharp increase in funding over the previous year are debt service and debt service reserve as well as a $36 million rainy day account repayment. One of Riley's arguments for Amendment One was that previous one-time solutions were coming due, and that retiring debt and repaying borrowed money would take away from funding that could be used in the classroom. Those three lines represent over 10 percent of the total Education Trust Fund budget.
Legislators must approve a budget for the fiscal year which begins on Oct. 1 before the year begins.

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