Bentley: Cuts are ‘true crisis’ for state

Published 9:38 pm Wednesday, August 19, 2015

By KIM CHANDLERThe Associated Press

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Gov. Robert Bentley continued the tough talk on Wednesday, bidding to ramp up support for tax increases ahead of a second special session on the budget.

The governor said funding cuts to Medicaid, mental health and law enforcement would harm all Alabamians. In a speech to the Alabama Health Care Improvement Task Force, Bentley said that if any state parks were to close because of future cuts he might put up signs outside closed facilities naming the lawmakers responsible.

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“It will become a true crisis if those cuts go into effect,” Bentley said. “People, they want their hospitals open, and immunizations and troopers on the road and all of the things that the services provide. They want that.”

The Republican governor has been trying to persuade Republican legislators to approve $300 million in taxes to fill a projected budget shortfall. Bentley vetoed a cut-filled budget in June. A special session ended this month without a budget agreement.

The governor said he will call a second special session in early September, but hasn’t decided whether it will be right after Labor Day or the following week. The lack of agreement means state agencies are without a budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1

The task force on Wednesday approved a resolution backing the effort to find $300 million in new revenue for the general fund.

State Health Officer Don Williamson said the Alabama runs a bare-bones Medicaid program that covers fewer services than other states. He said Alabama spends 35 percent less on Medicaid than Mississippi even though Alabama’s program has 35 percent more patients.

He said the Medicaid program needs an additional $60 million to maintain level services in the coming fiscal year.

“Our problem is we don’t fund Medicaid. You can only starve the cow so long and it dies,” Williamson said.

Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, told the group that there are two views among legislators. “There are some that think there is plenty of money to run government. There are some of us who know there is not enough,” Dial said.

So far the view against taxes has been the prevailing one. Bentley did not get a major revenue bill to a floor vote in the special session.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, has previously said there is no appetite among senators to raise taxes on working Alabamians.

Bentley’s proposals include a 25-cent-per pack cigarette tax that would be phased in over two years and ending people’s ability to get a state income tax deduction for Social Security taxes paid. Alabama is one of four states that allows the deduction.