Bentley budget: Deep cuts

Published 11:05 pm Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Gov. Robert Bentley on Tuesday proposed huge cuts to state agencies while protecting certain needed services.

A day after declaring 3 percent proration in the current education budget and 15 percent proration in the General Fund, Bentley said in his first State of the State address that his proposed budget for the 2012 fiscal year would have cuts of 15 to 45 percent on state agencies. Some would be eliminated entirely, he said.

Bentley’s budget would also require state employees and teachers to pay more for health insurance and retirement, and he also proposed eliminating the popular DROP program for educators. Those cuts could save the state $100 million, he said.

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“What we feared is true,” Bentley said. “We do not have enough money to sustain either budget. The taxpayers deserve better.”

The proposal for more out-of-pocket health insurance expenses for teachers received the least applause of the evening from lawmakers.

Bentley said he would propose a “responsible” budget that would not need proration next year.

“In order to make that happen, there are sacrifices to be made,” he said. “We will ask teachers to pay more for individual retirement and for health insurance programs. … I am recommending repeal of the DROP program, which has overly taxed our retirement system.”

The DROP program allows teachers to continue to work while accumulating funds in a retirement account.

Bentley also proposed eliminating restrictive language on state funding for education to allow school boards more flexibility in using state dollars.

Bentley also proposed setting aside $5 million for classroom supplies, and said he will maintain the Alabama Reading Initiative, the Math and Science Initiative and the ACCESS distance learning program, and increase the number of advance placement teachers in high schools.

In the General Fund, Bentley said Medicaid, public safety and the Alabama National Guard would be protected, while other agencies would see deep cuts of 15 to 45 percent and some programs would face elimination.

“We have removed 217 line items, including 185 earmarks and 32 entities, such as commissions and boards,” Bentley said. “Many are worthwhile; many are not.”

Among those that could be cut from state funding are historic sites and tourist attractions.

“They are not as important as providing healthcare to low income families or to keep state troopers on our roads,” Bentley said.

The new governor said he would propose an expanded version of a bill he passed last year as a state legislator that would give tax breaks to companies for each new job created.

“Our state is on the verge of dramatic change,” he said. “I do believe that jobs are coming to Alabama.”