State budgets delayed in session

Published 10:32 pm Thursday, March 4, 2010

Even though state budgets remain a question mark, more than 300 Troy University students gathered Thursday at the Capitol to rally for funding equity as part of Higher Ed day.

They joined nearly 2,500 participants who lobbied the Legislature on behalf of fair funding for higher education. Lawmakers, however, could offer little information.

“We haven’t started the budget,” said Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne.

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Legislators may not get down to business until federal stimulus funds pass – or don’t – but Mitchell and Rep. Alan Boothe, D-Troy, said the Legislature may not have time to wait.

“We still have not received final word on the federal stimulus money,” Boothe said. “That, of course, determines how we will structure the budgets. Word was we could possibly know in the latter part of this week. Regardless of what happens, we will start to structure (the budget) whether we have it or we don’t.”

Boothe said that could be within the next two weeks. Mitchell said budget talk could come as early as next week.

The Legislature is tasked with passing both a General Fund and an Education budget as its only legally-required act of the session, which reached its halfway mark earlier this week.

The hold up has been federal funds, upon which Gov. Bob Riley built his budget. The funding has not yet passed the House and Senate. Without this money, both budgets would face deficits.

“We know we have holes in the budget the governor submitted,” Mitchell said. “So if federal funds aren’t forthcoming, we’re going to have to find ways to make up for those funds.”

House education budget chairman Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, told the Associated Press state schools may be faced with laying off 3,000 to 3,500 teachers and twice that many personnel if the U.S. Senate doesn’t pass a version of a Jobs for Main Street bill that allots $345 million to Alabama schools.

“I think we’re looking at more cuts than what we’ve had,” Boothe said.

But just how much could be cut, he said it was too early to tell.

It’s not just the state’s Education budget facing shortfalls as the session draws on.

The General Fund budget, which funds services like Medicaid and Medicare, the Department of Human Resources and state troopers, is also on hold pending federal dollars.

At stake is an estimated $190 million for Medicaid, the AP reports.

Even though budgets are yet to come, nearly 300 Troy University students joined the rally in support of the university receiving its fair share of those funds.

“We were asking for equitable funding for all segments (of education),” said Troy University’s Director of Government Relations Marcus Paramore. “If there are cuts, they need to be equitable across the board.”

Paramore said he feels certain the message was heard, but he said he isn’t sure there will be much lawmakers can do.

“We hope they get the message and understand the message, but they have a tough task ahead of them,” Paramore said.

“We hope they get the message, and they treat all segments of education fairly. We know they have a tough year ahead.”

*The Associated Press contributed to this report.