CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

November 11, 2012

Tough decisions ahead


The Cullman Times

CULLMAN — The Republican Party in Alabama made more gains in last week’s general election.

Roy Moore reclaimed the seat of Alabama Supreme Court chief justice while Twinkles Cavanaugh unseated Lucy Baxley for president of the Public Service Commission. The state legislature is already firmly in the hands of the Grand Old Party, which sets the stage for a crucial 2013 legislative session.

Staring lawmakers in the face is a continued downslide in the General Fund, which is responsible for funding many important services for the state, from prisons and Medicaid to court services. The state’s funding formulas dump most of the tax dollars collected in Alabama to the state Education Trust Fund, which finished the last budget year with a surplus.

State Republican Party chairman Bill Armistead said the GOP has everything in its favor to make strides in bringing the state’s budgets into reality. With a Republican governor and hosts of GOP lawmakers in place, the new leadership will have to work closely together to make anything lasting happen with the budgets.

Medicaid is the big monster for lawmakers to tackle. Prisons are close behind after years and years of tough laws aimed at giving lengthy sentences to offenders. Without some compromises where sentencing and incarceration are concerned, the state could be forced by the U.S. Justice Department to release large numbers of prisoners because of overcrowding and other issues.

The most critical issue is for lawmakers to make some hard decisions concerning funds for various programs in the state. No one wants to keep borrowing from the Alabama Trust Fund to prop up services. Making carefully planned reductions coupled with eliminating waste and fraud in Medicaid are crucial in this session.

Once costs can be controlled, lawmakers should take a serious look at Gov. Robert Bentley’s suggestion of combining the education and general budgets. That doesn’t need to happen next year, but serious consideration should be given to this idea after the General Fund is brought into order.

A rising economy will ensure that the education budget gets plenty of money in the years ahead, but under the formula it leaves little for the General Fund. Leaving that system in place will only bring crisis after crisis to the state. Lawmakers should make the tough moves in the next session and prepare for a change in the budgeting process in the future. The change is long overdue.