Vote to halt cuts? Referendum explained

Published 4:08 pm Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Voters will head to the polls Sept. 18 to decide whether to pass a constitutional amendment many groups support — although many agree the policy behind it is not the best idea for Alabama.
The amendment will allow lawmakers to move funds — about $146 million —from the state’s oil and gas reserves to the general fund budget over the next three years to stave off more cuts to state agencies.
State Sen. Marc Keahey, D-Grove Hill, said he has not specified opposition to the amendment because he does not want to see any more cuts to agencies such as the human resources and public safety.
But he said the Legislature did not do its job when passing a budget that would rely on the transfer of funds.
“All we did was leave Montgomery hoping the people we represent would bail us out,” he said.
Without passage of the amendment, state agencies could face up to 12 percent cuts, state Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton said.
“We are in a critical situation,” he said, noting that many of the agencies served by the general fund have already been cut to the bare bones in their budgets. “I would say the belt has been tightened as much as it can be. We’re cutting off limbs now.”
In previous years, governors, including Gov. Robert Bentley, have worked to protect the state prisons and Medicare from cuts, but Baker said he is not sure that would still be a possibility. That could lead to some release of non-violent prisoners as well as cuts to Medicare payments to nursing homes and hospitals, along with the cuts to services such as state troopers and the Department of Human Resources.
Baker said there simply is no “appetite” in Montgomery or in the state for raising revenue.
“It’s just not a realistic approach right now,” he said.
Baker said he respects those who believe the oil and gas trust fund should not be disturbed, but that he supports the amendment because the state’s financial situation is so dire.
“These are critical times we are experiencing with tough choices to be made by which Alabama voters will get to choose the bare minimum level of state services that will be sustained or slashed further,” Baker said.
Keahey said he understands the need for the funding, but he does not believe in the policy.
“I think it’s a horrible policy for the Legislature to adopt as a means to address our general fund budget,” he said. “My concern is that if it doesn’t pass there is not a plan (other than cuts). I’m opposed to this as a policy, but when you think about it in terms of reality, what else are we going to do?”

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