In a presidential election year, the focus of the nation tends to shift to the top job on the ticket. There’s no shortage of news about the top two presidential candidates, and the personalities and issues involved are certainly interesting to follow. Voters should also make the extra effort to learn about other races on the general election ballot, and ten state constitution amendments that will be presented Nov. 6.
A number of towns and cities are also holding municipal elections Aug. 28, where each person’s vote carries more proportional weight. We encourage readers to get to know the candidates in their areas and make their decisions based on who can do the best jobs to improve the quality of life in their communities.
But there’s another election date ahead of us that is no less important, on a single amendment to our state constitution that we’re told could lead to disaster if it doesn’t pass.
On Sept. 18, Alabama voters will have their say on Amendment One, which states, “Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to provide adequate funding for the State General Fund budget, to prevent the mass release of prisoners from Alabama prisons, and to protect critical health services to Alabama children, elderly, and mothers by transferring funds from the Alabama Trust Fund to the State General Fund beginning with the state’s 2012-2013 fiscal year and concluding with the state’s 2014-2015 fiscal year; to provide a new procedure for distributions made from the Alabama Trust Fund beginning 2012-2013 fiscal year; to create a County and Municipal Government Capital Improvement Trust Fund advisory committee; and to provide further for distributions made from the County and Municipal Government Capital Improvement Trust Fund. (Propose by Act No. 2012-490)”
We’re not fond of the idea of raiding the state’s oil and gas trust fund to finance current needs, but that appears to be the best solution to the current situation. It’s not that the tax base is smaller — based on the Alabama Department of Revenue’s Abstract for the month of June, the state appears to be having a record year for tax collections, more than $8 billion so far in the current fiscal year. It was barely $6 billion at this point last year, and just under $4.5 billion in 2003. But that is not the sole source of state funding.
The biggest part of this year’s budget shortfall is the loss of federal stimulus money. Gov. Bentley is trying to streamline state government while minimizing services, and that will help, but it won’t be enough to offset the shortfall.
Dr. Donald Williamson, head of the Alabama Department of Public Health, said if the amendment fails, a further 10 percent cut to general fund agencies could be disastrous. He has said a 10 percent cut to Medicaid could lead to the loss of doctors, hospital closures and the loss of nursing home services.
The “mass release” of state prisoners doesn’t sound good, either. Cuts to other state agencies would also reduce services.
The current legislature already put in place a “rolling reserve” budgeting process, which should in the long run help state government operate on a more stable and sustainable footing, but it appears more work needs to be done.
Robbing the trust fund to buy time is a stopgap solution, one in which our governor and legislators are “kicking the can” down the road while a long-term answer can be found. It looks like the best choice the state has this year.