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Alabama Senate Approves Budget with Cuts for Many (AL)

April 8, 2011

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A $1.8 billon General Fund budget approved by the Alabama Senate on Thursday will require most agencies, except prisons and Medicaid, to get by on less money and will wipe out funding for many museums and tourist attractions.

The Senate kept the budget largely like Gov. Robert Bentley recommended and the Senate’s 27-4 vote sent it to the House for consideration.
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The budget provides no raises for state workers and is based on them paying more for retirement and health insurance. But it will allow them to keep their yearly longevity bonuses and not have furloughs, although layoffs remain likely.

Mac McArthur, executive director of the Alabama State Employees Association, said he was satisfied considering the state’s financial problems.

“It’s probably the best ugly budget they could put together,” he said.

The budget will increase spending from $1.59 billion this year to $1.76 billion for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. That’s a $177 million more than the current budget. But the reality is many programs are being cut so that prisons can get a $62 million increase and Medicaid a $247 million increase to maintain services that had been financed with fede ral stimulus funds, which are running out this year.

The Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which represents 19 shelters for abused spouses and their children around the state, will be dropping from $378,675 this year to $259,182 next year. Executive Director Carol Gundlach said no shelters will have to close, but some shelters will have to cut back on counseling and other services because they are in rural areas where they can’t find private donors to replace the lost state funds.

“It’s not good, but we are glad to be in the budget,” she said.

The budget recommended by Bentley and approved by the Senate eliminates $3.3 million that had been going to dozens of museums, halls of fame, historical sites, tourist attractions and festivals.

Chairman Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said the state couldn’t afford the money when more than 200 state employees have already received layoff notices and more are expected.

“We don’t have a lot of money for discretionary projects,” he said.

Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, said the decision could thwart the state’s efforts to recover from the recession because tourists attraction like Birmingham’s Civil Rights Institute draw crowds that spend money far exceeding the $21,500 it is getting from the state this year. The budget calls for the institute to get nothing next year.

The budget for fiscal 2012 is propped up with $263 million the state is pulling from capital gains in an investment fund. That one-time source of revenue for fiscal 2012 wont’ be available for 2013. That prompted Orr to warn senators that they haven’t seen the toughest budget of their four-year term.

“2013 is going to be worse than 2012,” he said.

The state’s other budget, the education budget, will be considered by the House next week and then go to the Senate.