I have written about the funding crisis facing Alabama’s court system in past issues of The Report, but it bears repeating. Budget cuts proposed by the state legislature are simply untenable for the court system. It cannot be overemphasized that these cuts will cut off access to justice for our state’s citizens. The court system in Alabama is already hamstrung from past budget cuts and there just isn’t any more blood left to take.
The deal on the table would cut 15 percent of the appropriation designated for Alabama courts from the General Fund, which works out to $13.9 million. A budget cut of this severity would cripple the state courts, which are already operating on a shoestring and badly understaffed. The cuts will hurt badly and would cause an additional 530 layoffs. If this happens, the court system would be unable to carry out its constitutional duties and responsibilities.
Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore recently visited our Beasley Allen Report program on WSFA. The Chief Justice told host Gibson Vance, who is a lawyer at our firm, that the court system cannot sustain the type of budget cuts that are currently being proposed by the legislature. He is concerned that the judicial branch is essentially being “defunded out of existence.”
Faced with such dire circumstances, legislators are scrambling to find new revenue streams. Gov. Robert Bentley proposed $541 million in tax increases, but lawmakers largely ignored those bills. Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, sponsored a bill to raise the cigarette tax by 25 cents a pack, which was part of a tax increase package totaling about $150 million proposed by the House Republican Caucus. After receiving no support from the Senate caucus, the bill floundered. However, Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, told al.com he felt there was still some support for the proposal. Rep. Clouse also said there is positive talk about increasing the maximum business privilege tax.
Other lawmakers are turning to their old “enemy,” gambling, as a potential source of new revenue for the state. Results of a recent poll revealed 61 percent of Republican voters would favor a lottery; 57 percent would allow gambling like blackjack, poker and slots; and 55 percent favor legalizing gambling. The poll was commissioned by Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, leader of the state Senate. The poll surveyed 500 likely GOP voters. Sen. Marsh has gone on record as saying he favors raising money by legalizing gambling, including introduction of a lottery. I am not sure there are enough Senators who agree with him on this issue for the package to pass.
The poll also showed that 72 percent of voters who say they are Republicans think the budget can be balanced without raising taxes, and opposed Gov. Bentley’s proposed $541 million tax increase. But despite their opposition to his plan, the governor’s base of support among his party remains high, with 68 percent of those polled saying they have a positive view of the job he’s doing.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. Gov. Bentley is expected to call legislators into a special session later this summer to try to fill the $200 million 2016 General Fund budget hole and address the long-term deficit, which is estimated to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $700 million.
Alabama’s Unified Judicial System is one of the oldest and best in the nation. It is inconceivable that it should now be allowed to fail. How can a state and its people survive without access to justice?
Contact us today for a free legal consultation with an experienced attorney.
Fields marked *may be required for submission.
If you would like to subscribe to the Jere Beasley Report digital edition, simply visit our Subscriptions page and provide the necessary information or call us at 800-898-2034.
Attorney Advertising - Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.