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Local agencies to see cuts

There’s little question if residents who benefit from Medicaid or DHR services will be affected in the next year. It’s really just how much.

That’s what local legislators have said after a week of budget hearings in the state capitol.

“We know those agencies in Pike County will be affected, but we don’t know to what degree those will be,” said Rep. Alan Boothe, D-Troy. “I know they will be significant.”

In a time of national economic recession, statewide proration and a slim budget outlook, Gov. Bob Riley has requested all state agencies reduce their budget by 10 percent. Locally, that means the court systems, the Department of Human Resources and Medicaid will be just some of the state services Pike County residents will see some type of reduction in.

“If Gov. Riley follows through on his across-the-board cuts, a minimum of 10 percent will affect all state agencies except the Department of Corrections and Public safety,” said Sen. Wendall Mitchell, D-Luverne.

But, Mitchell said legislators only heard from some agencies in budget hearings last week, and it will be at least another week before anyone will really begin to know just how the economy will affect the 2010 budget, which begins Oct. 1.

Last week, Mitchell said they heard from Medicaid, the court systems, public safety and DHR.

And despite funding shortfalls, Mitchell said almost all of the departments are requesting funding that matches or even goes beyond what they received last year.

“I’ve seen very few department heads present their request where they didn’t ask for more money,” Mitchell said.

The court system representatives, in the hearing, said they would be unable to take a 10 percent cut without laying off some of their crucial employees, since 90 percent of their funding is used for salary, Mitchell said.

Boothe said the legislators are holding on to hope President Barack Obama’s stimulus plan will pass and will provide some funding to state agencies.

But in the meantime, Mitchell said legislators are pressing on in budget planning.

And though the education budget, which is experiencing now the highest proration in 48 years, will see big cuts, Mitchell said they may not be as severe as what the general fund is facing.

“The education budget is going to be a little better off compared to the general fund budget this year because we passed that amendment to allow us to borrow money from the oil and gas trust fund,” Mitchell said. “Though it won’t be enough I’m told.”

The legislature convenes Feb. 3, and by Feb. 10, Mitchell said the Riley should submit a proposed budget for education and all other agencies, as well.