Gov. Robert Bentley

Agencies face 15 percent cut

Published 10:05pm Friday, January 28, 2011

MONTGOMERY — Some state officials are talking about devastating impacts if their agencies have to take a 15 percent budget cut this year and another 20 percent reduction next year.

Gov. Robert Bentley’s finance director has asked several state agencies to make a list of what they would recommend doing if the governor has to cut the state General Fund budget that deeply for 2011 and 2012.

“Those types of cuts would be devastating to the court system,” said Callie Dietz, chief administrator for the state courts.

Dietz said Friday the court system is starting to develop a list to present to the Bentley administration next week and it’s too early to say what will be on it. But Dietz would be looking at cutting $19.5 million out of a $130 million appropriation this year.

When the court system has been hit with big cuts before it has reduced operating hours for circuit clerks’ offices and laid off support staff in courtrooms and clerks’ offices.

At the state Department of Public Health, State Health Officer Don Williamson said the cuts would create “nearly impossible” conditions.

He would be looking at slicing $14 million out of this year’s $94 million appropriation. “Those kinds of cuts you simply cannot absorb,” he said.

Williamson said he’s still developing a list for the Bentley administration, but it is likely to include reducing services to Medicaid recipients, conducting fewer inspections at restaurants and nursing homes, and scaling back the children’s health insurance program, ALL Kids. The program now covers 76,000 children, but the department would have to reduce that and create a waiting list for coverage, he said.

Alabama’s Constitution prohibits deficit spending, and the governor has to order across-the-board cuts when state revenue falls below appropriations.

During an appearance Friday in Birmingham, Bentley described the General Budget as “dismal.”

He told reporters Thursday in Montgomery that the taxes that flow into the General Fund budget don’t respond quickly to improvements in the economy and it will take time for it to recover from the recession. He said he is likely to have to make significant cuts soon, but has no deadline for deciding.

Joyce Bigbee, director of the Legislative Fiscal Office, estimated last month the $1.68 billion General Fund budget for this year would have to be cut 8.5 percent. Last year’s General Fund budget got cut 10 percent by then-Gov. Bob Riley.

The cuts, known as “proration,” don’t affect all agencies equally. That’s because some agencies have state taxes set aside for their use and don’t have to rely on appropriations from the General Fund budget.

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