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Will governor call for general fund proration?

By By Kerry Whipple Bean
publisher

In an economic downturn, the Department of Human Resources kicks into “high gear,” local DHR Director Lynn Barnes said — with food stamps and other social services in high demand as residents cope with unemployment or reduced wages.
But, like all other state agencies, DHR is bracing for cuts in the current budget year. Gov. Bob Riley is expected to declare 12 percent proration in the state’s general fund budget in the near future, state Sen. Marc Keahey and state Rep. Alan Baker told constituents Thursday night.
If Riley declares proration in coming days, state agency budgets will be cut by 12 percent across the board. Lawmakers are expected to increase funds for prisons and Medicaid this year to help offset those cuts, but other agencies would be affected.
At the beginning of the current fiscal year, Riley declared 7.5 percent proration in the education trust fund.
Barnes said her agency’s state commissioner will decide how the cuts would affect county offices, but she has been trying to prepare for the tough times for months.
Not only do more people seek food stamps, there are other residual effects, Barnes said. For example, some parents aren’t able to pay child support because they are unemployed.
With no official word on proration yet, Barnes could only speculate on the possibility of cuts.
DHR has been in a hiring freeze for months, cutting staff only through attrition by not replacing workers who leave the agency.
Despite the looming cuts, Barnes said her staff is prepared to handle the influx of work.
While agencies anticipate cuts in the current budget year, lawmakers will return from their spring break next week to spend the second half of their regular session hammering out general fund and education budgets for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
Last year, the state was able to help shore up its budgets because of federal stimulus funding, which lawmakers split to save half for the coming year.
The 2011 general fund budget could see some help from a federal jobs bill, but Keahey said lawmakers don’t know for sure whether the state will receive that money.
Both Baker and Keahey said local education leaders have urged them to pass realistic budgets so that they won’t have to deal with proration again next year.