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Budgeting process won’t get easier

Alabama lawmakers passed a $1.2 billion general fund budget on Thursday, including a 3 percent pay raise for state employees, but we wonder what the long-term costs of that budget will be.

With lawmakers borrowing and transferring funds simply to make budget ends meet in one year, we fear our state will face even greater funding challenges next year as we realize we’ve depleted one-time funding resources.

Like most Alabamians, we want to see our state employees fairly compensated. We believe in the benefits and merits of a statewide program to help make free prescription drugs available to low-income senior citizens. And we know that funding the work of state government is never easy.

But we also expect our lawmakers to be good stewards of our tax dollars. We expect them to budget and to plan, not just for this year, but for the years ahead. We expect them to have a working plan and a long-term vision, and we expect them to look past the pressures of an election year when making important budgetary decisions

The pay raise, while arguably much deserved, is a precarious investment on the part of lawmakers. With state revenues projected to drop by about $80 million this year, the lawmakers were forced to pull $13 million from the settlement of an oil royalties lawsuit just to fund this year’s pay raises.

That money, like much of the borrowing that took place to fund the budget, will help only for one year. Yet pay raises, like many state programs, require guaranteed sources of funding year after year after year.

Even Rep. John Knight, D-Birmingham, chairman of the House General Fund budget-writing committee, admitted the lawmakers had borrowed about $76 million from transferred funds or other one-time sources for this year’s budget.

Funding next year’s budget won’t be any easier.  

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