Senate revives vetoed budget

Published 3:43 pm Saturday, August 8, 2015

By Kim ChandlerThe Associated Press

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Legislators at an impasse over tax increases could end their summer the same way they began it: Passing a budget that slashes state agencies with the expectation that Gov. Robert Bentley will veto it and call them back to Montgomery yet again.

Lawmakers will wrap up a special session next week after being unable to agree on how to fill a $200 million general fund shortfall.

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“Unfortunately it has not been able to be a successful special session and to come up with a general fund budget because there is simply no consensus,” House Speaker Mike Hubbard said.

The Senate Finance and Taxation Committee rejected a House-passed budget that would have focused the cuts on the state’s Medicaid program by focusing most of the cuts there in order to build pressure for a solution. Senators said it was too risky a strategy and could lead to the collapse of the state healthcare program for the poor and disabled if the reductions were approved.

Instead the committee resurrected the budget of lawmakers that Bentley vetoed in June. It spreads the fiscal pain across state agencies and would cut Medicaid by $36 million instead of $156 million.

“We’re replacing a sorry budget with a crappy budget,” Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said.

That spending would cut funding to Medicaid, the Department of Human Resources, prisons and the Department of Mental Health by about 5 percent. Other state agencies would see reductions of 9 percent.

The Senate will debate the budget Monday. The session, by law, must end Tuesday.

Senate Finance and Taxation Committee Chairman Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said he expects that Bentley will veto the budget again and call them back into special session.

Republicans control the governor’s office and hold a supermajority in both legislative chambers but have been unable to agree after months of discussions.

“They won’t vote for any kind of simple tax to fund Medicaid, keep people in the nursing home. It’s just idiotic to me,” Sen Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, said

Proposals such a cigarette tax, a soda tax, ending income tax deductions, tightening corporate tax loopholes and yanking the money from the separate education budget haven’t gotten enough support to get to a floor vote.

Orr said all Alabama citizens would be negatively affected by the cuts if they went into effect when the fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

“You would see state parks beginning the shutdown process. You would see employees beginning to get pink slips. You would see programs beginning to be cut, shut down and abolished,” Orr said.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said he told Bentley Friday that taxes are still unlikely in the Senate.

“Right now the bulk of the senate members do not believe it is time to raise taxes. They are not hearing cries from their families at home that sit around those kitchen tables,” Marsh said.