Unlike the out-of-control federal government in Washington, DC, Alabama has a constitutional mandate to balance the budgets, which is exactly what the Governor and this Legislature intend to do. That means legislators have to work hard every year to guarantee that expenditures do not exceed revenues, just like you do every month for your own household or business.
We understand it is frustrating that state government does not yet have a general fund budget for the new fiscal year that starts on October 1. However, the people of our great state elected us to live within our means and make difficult decisions about what gets funded and what doesn’t. That takes time, and with a potential deficit of over $200 million facing the general fund, the issue requires extensive debate and public input.
Since 2011, the Legislature has cut over $1 billion in annual spending. At the same time, however, costs have increased – particular as related to healthcare costs just as they likely have for your household. The need for various state government services also grows as we continue to recover from the great recession and as the baby boomer generation ages and retires.
The process of diving deep into state government services and spending is incredibly time consuming and complex. Often seemingly obvious solutions are constrained by federal law, federal regulations, or court opinions. Yet we continue that course to find every responsible option available to provide necessary state services in a fiscally responsible manner. With grandparents relying on Medicaid for nursing home services, abandoned children trusting DHR to keep them safe, and state parks needing state funds to keep the gates open, we cannot be flippant with spending cuts or revenue changes.
And let’s also not forget that Alabama competes with our sister states for industry and jobs every single day. With that in mind, we must ensure that Alabama can compete and win in the arena of fair tax structure, quality healthcare infrastructure and services, excellent education, reliable transportation infrastructure, strong public safety, and efficient court systems. If Alabama is not competitive in these areas, then we cannot grow our economy, improve the quality of life of our citizens, reduce the Medicaid rolls (and the resulting cost savings), and reduce the prison census (and the resulting cost savings).
Nike’s slogan of “Just Do It” sounds catchy for legislators to follow, but nearly everyone in Alabama relies on or uses one state service or more. For instance, consider the roads we ride on every day, or the law enforcement personnel that protect our safety, or the judicial system that maintains law and order in our communities. The process of setting spending priorities is what Alabamians say they want, and that’s what we’re doing. We are taking the responsible approach, even if it takes longer than the easy way out.
While the media and some state agencies are crying, “The sky is falling,” this deep review of government is not a bad thing! It would be easy to raise broad-based taxes by billions of dollars like other states have done. It would be easy to uncaringly take an ax to every state agency and department without out thought or discretion. But what would the outcome of these actions be?
The two of us believe there is a feasible solution that involves putting everything on the table and analyzing all options. State agencies cannot receive state dollars without providing complete justification for every line item. And the public cannot complain about massive cuts to services without supporting some plan or proposal that will help avoid them.
Our legislative process works best when all stakeholders voice their opinions, participate in discussions, and come willing to compromise. If this happens, Montgomery doesn’t have to select winners and losers – who get taxed more, who gets cut more, who gets left out.
Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh and House Speaker Mike Hubbard have worked well together over the last five years, and their leadership has helped us navigate the budget issues thus far. It is our goal to continue working with them and all members of the legislature to bring everyone to the table. But when that happens, agendas and ultimatums have to be left at the door for the good of the whole.
Now comes your part of the equation. Call your state representative and state senator and express your opinion. If you don’t know who represents you, visit this website and enter your address to find out: http://bitly.com/ALstate.
The governor has now called a special session to start on Tuesday, September 8. That means we hope to hear from you before then. Help us make this big lift, let your voice be heard, and be part of not only solving the current budget deficit, but also in setting Alabama on a path to success.
And at the end of the day, remember it is a good thing that we balance our budgets in Alabama!
Senator Greg Reed (R-Jasper) is Majority Leader of the Alabama State Senate. Representative Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa) is chairman of the House Ways & Means Education Committee.