Bentley threatens budget veto over state cuts

Published 7:17 pm Friday, April 10, 2015

By Martin Swant | The Associated Press

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said Friday he will veto any state budget that includes “draconian” cuts that would be required without tax increases.

Bentley continued to press for public support for his $541 million tax proposal. He said everyone will be affected by the General Fund budget cuts outlined in a draft spending plan circulated by lawmakers.

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“This is a budget that is draconian, and it will hurt people,” Bentley told the Alabama Public Health Association Conference in Montgomery.

This week, Democratic lawmakers revived the idea of creating a lottery 15 years after it was last rejected by voters. Bentley said he wouldn’t fight the new attempt but added he doesn’t think it’s a solution for the current budget problems.

“A small state like Alabama, the lottery is not going to solve the problem,” he said.

The $1.8 billion general fund is expected to have a roughly $290 million shortfall next year. Bentley said the need is actually much higher.

The governor’s tax plan calls for eight separate tax increases. The majority of new revenue would come from higher taxes on tobacco and automobile sales. Another proposal would make changes to the state’s corporate income tax.

Lawmakers haven’t embraced Bentley’s tax proposal during the first third of the legislative session.

Bentley said some have criticized his tax package while simultaneously seeking state funds.

“If they’re not willing to stick their neck out, they don’t need to be sticking their hand out,” he said.

While the governor threatens a veto, lawmakers could outnumber him; Alabama law requires only a majority of the Legislature for a veto override.

State Health Officer Don Williamson said cuts to Medicaid would likely make the program no longer viable.

“I don’t want to be hyperbolic, but I really don’t know if we can make a Medicaid program work that CMS will approve when you cut $350 million out of a program that already has the third-lowest cost in the country,” Williamson said.