The people of Alabama will vote this month on a proposal to transfer $145 million a year for three years from the Alabama Trust Fund to the state’s General Fund. As some of our readers may already know, this Trust Fund, which has been erroneously referred to as a state savings account, comes from the state’s royalties from offshore natural gas drilling leases in Alabama waters. The use of the Trust Fund is designated for specific purposes. The referendum also would alter the distribution formula from the Trust Fund. The General Fund would get an extra $52 million next fiscal year under the proposed distribution formula.
Lawmakers passed a $1.6 billion General Fund budget for the next fiscal year “betting” on the amendment’s passage. If it fails, state agencies would have $197.8 million — or 11.8% – less to spend than lawmakers budgeted. This would result in deep spending cuts in General Fund programs, including Medicaid, and would hurt the people of Alabama very badly. Sadly, Medicaid is already grossly underfunded and must have additional revenues from some source to survive. State Health Officer Don Williamson has said that the state’s Medicaid program is facing an “uncontrolled train wreck” if the amendment fails. In that event, Dr. Williamson sees a $100 million shortfall at the minimum.
Budgeting by the Legislature – depending on a “bet” for needed revenues – is not good fiscal policy. It’s time for those in control to face reality, find a way to provide the revenues badly needed for the General Fund agencies, and put our state on solid fiscal ground. The last time we had a tax increase in Alabama was in 1982 when George Wallace was Governor and that was a modest increase in the gas tax. Since that time, the Legislature has refused to deal responsibly with our state’s fiscal problems. The proverbial “old can” has been kicked down the road for decades and now here we go again.
But realizing that people – not the politicians – will be hurt badly if this Amendment fails to pass, I am going to vote yes. The immediate needs, especially in Medicaid, are too great to do otherwise. Another factor weighing in favor of voting for the Amendment is the fact that Governor Bentley recently promised that the money would eventually be paid back into the Fund. I have found Governor Bentley to be a “straight shooter” and a man of his word. I believe he will make sure the money is repaid to the Trust Fund. I encourage all Alabamians to turn out to vote on September 18th and to vote yes on this Amendment.
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