Shortsighted budget transfers hurt environment

Published 11:38 pm Wednesday, October 28, 2015

When legislators will not face fiscal facts and provide a reliable funding foundation for the operations of state government, the patchwork budgets that result are sure to cause problems. Yet another detrimental element of the cobbled-together General Fund budget passed in the second special session was highlighted recently by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.
ADEM’s funding comes largely from various fees it charges in the conduct of the environmental mission that is not merely in its name, but which is the reason it exists. Those fees were intended to cover the cost of this work, not to be plucked out by the Legislature to patch a fiscal hole somewhere else.
Nevertheless, the Legislature transferred $1.2 million from ADEM, as if the environmental agency were some sort of easy-access ATM. “Environmental fees are now a revenue stream to support general state expenditures rather than the environmental cleanups for which they were created,” ADEM Director Lance LeFleur told the Environmental Management Commission. “This undermines the mission of ADEM. The department strenuously objects to this action and sees it as a breach of the public trust.”
It is a breach of the public trust. LeFleur went on: “To take the fee they are paying and diverting it to general state expenditures to me is a breach of the trust that the citizens put in the state when they agreed to pay that fee. They are not getting the service they are paying for.”
He’s right. With that money snatched away, ADEM will feel the pinch – which means the environment will feel the pinch – in its recycling grant programs and its scrap tire removal programs.
These are not unimportant ADEM functions. Recycling programs are seldom self-supporting, so the ADEM grants help local officials maintain them. The Scrap Tire Fund was established to clean up illegal tire dumps around the state. These dumps encourage mosquito breeding and create health hazards.
“The important point on all of this to me is these fees that are collected to fund those two funds were set up solely for the purpose for which they’re being used,” LeFleur said. “This is not a random revenue stream funding those programs.”
Yet with its trademark shortsightedness, the Legislature has chosen to treat it as just that. It’s irresponsible and an affront to every Alabamian who cares about the environment. This is the entirely predictable result of determinedly dodging fiscal reality year after year.
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