Sanders: The cold is about to become pneumonia

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 10, 2003

With the defeat of Amendment One, Alabama residents should brace for some Draconian budget measures: The cold is about to become pneumonia, says State Sen. Hank Sanders.

Alabama is expected to face a $675 million budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. The shortage is expected to affect almost all government services, including schools and even the prosecution of criminal.

Sanders said that had the amendment succeeded, the state would have been able to do the things that need to be done to make up that shortfall. Now that is has failed, he added, the cold will become pneumonia, almost immediately.

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Sanders predicted that many programs will be cut. he said, and the cuts that are made will hurt the poor and those in need the most.

The discussion now in Montgomery, he said, is not when the next effort at tax reform will come but rather which programs will be cut and which will not be cut. Since property and income taxes are constitutional matters that require approval by the voters, the only way left to raise revenue are sales and use taxes, he said.

Alabama is light on property and income taxes, he said, and very heavy on sales and use taxes, which are much harder on those with lower incomes.

Officials for the Selma and Dallas County school systems say they will be taking the hardest hit from the defeat of Amendment One.

The most significant changes are expected to be the loss of jobs and state-funded programs like the Alabama Reading Initiative.

City Superintendent Dr. James Carter told school board members during their last meeting that the student-teacher ratio will likely increase. Larger class sizes are inevitable for city schools, Carter told the board, along with the possibility of receiving only half units for principals, assistant principals, counselors and librarians.

Carter did assure the board last month that there are currently enough local funds to handle the salaries of teachers and administrators until the official school budget is voted on by legislators.

County schools are not quite so lucky.

May said he is almost certain that teacher supply money, which is currently at $200 per instructor, will have to be reduced or done away with altogether.

May said the board will also have to make a decision about whether to consolidate two county schools into one area.

Fourth Judicial Circuit District Attorney Ed Greene predicted his office could be facing a 30 percent cut in state appropriations.

Without those state appropriations, agencies such as the Department of Forensics Science could face personnel cuts due to a lack of funds. That would affect tests for drug cases, DNA and trace evidence tests, as well as post-mortem exams &045; &uot;which are crucial in death cases,&uot; Greene said.

Greene said his office has already felt the effects of an overburdened forensics science system. Recently, a Wilcox County murder case went to trial without a pathology report.

On Monday Greene was informed that mental evaluations would no longer be performed because the funding didn’t exist. A lack of mental evaluations wouldn’t just result in more continued cases, Greene said, but could allow suspects to go free.

Mental evaluations are used in most homicide cases to determine if the suspect is competent to stand trial and if he was competent at the time of the event.

Suspects could also be released because of a lack of funds to test drugs. If drug evidence can’t be tested because funds don’t exist and a backlog exists at forensics science, some judges may dismiss the case. Greene noted that’s already happened in the past.

Funding for the district attorney’s office comes from state appropriations, a child support program, and monies from court costs, &uot;which has continuously dropped over the last 15 years,&uot; Greene said.

He added that cuts in state appropriations would be a blow to his office and make it difficult to pay the bills.