Education could see more cuts

Published 6:47 pm Saturday, January 10, 2009

With a state education budget facing the largest shortfall in 48 years, hiring put on hold and several other programs slashed in funding, Alabama residents only thought things were bad.

But, when the State Legislature convenes next month, things may only get worse.

“This year is not as bad as next year,” said Rep. Alan Boothe (D-Troy). “We are going to have to look for a lot of cuts and make some tough choices.”

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And in a time where funding is tight, budgeting will be key as the legislature meets Feb. 3 to plan a 2010 budget based on what this year’s revenues have been.

Though there have only been some three months in this fiscal year, which started Oct. 1, tax revenues in the state have already dropped 6 percent.

That’s on top of delays in funding to school systems across the state and a 12.5 percent proration marking the highest in nearly 50 years.

Pike County’s representatives, Boothe and Sen. Wendall Mitchell (D-Luverne), both said the state session will center this year around how to compensate for limited funds in hard economic times.

“The primary goal of the legislature will be to pass two conservative budgets,” Mitchell said.

The state’s two funds, one for education solely and the other to address all other state needs, are the worst both Mitchell and Boothe have seen in their time in state government.

“They’re in the worst shape they’ve been in since I’ve been in the Senate,” Mitchell said.

Neither had specific ideas in mind about which programs may see cuts in state funds or how they would compensate for loss, but they said they will do all they can to ease the impact.

Aside from education, Boothe said funding for Medicare is an agency particularly important to him.

“We’ve got to do everything we can for Medicare and keep that because it’s really vital to a lot of people,” Boothe said.

Mitchell said the road ahead is not going to be an easy one to travel.

“We’ve got a long way to go to figure out how to avoid proration,” Mitchell said. “I will be looking out for Troy University as always to make sure they get their fair share.”

Apart from these budget matters, both local legislators have several items they have been working on for the session, as well.

Boothe said he is drafting a bill that will give the governor authority during times of crisis to freeze gas prices.

Mitchell also has several bills he will sponsor himself.

The biggest will be trying to pass an energy bill package in the Senate.

“Those bills range anywhere from making state buildings greener, to buying automobiles that get more gas mileage and last longer, to setting up a commission to take federal grants,” Mitchell said.

In addition, Mitchell is working on a bill to change how the state makes their payments, but it is one that will save them $1.5 million in this time of need.

“I’ve got a bill I’m going to put in to allow payment of debt by the state of Alabama through electronic means,” Mitchell said. “Right now we have to write a check to everybody.”

Several other pieces of legislation will be on the agenda in the next month. In the meantime though, beginning Tuesday, Mitchell said legislators will begin meeting with department heads and Gov. Riley to begin the budget planning process.