It’s budget time again

Published 11:09 pm Thursday, January 21, 2016

Last year, facing state budget problems that seemed on the verge of critical mass, Alabama lawmakers fought tooth-and-nail against a slate of tax increases put forth by Gov. Robert Bentley that would infuse the General Fund with more than a half-billion dollars in new revenue.

After the regular session and two special sessions – and a budget veto from the governor – lawmakers finally conceded a 25-cent per pack cigarette tax and looted $80 million from the education budget to shore up the General Fund.

Then they went home. They didn’t solve the problem. They just put it off until next year.

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That’s the trouble with kicking the can down the road; it always reappears in your path.

“Next year” is here; the regular legislative session convenes on Feb. 2 – just over two weeks away. And lawmakers are already hearing budget requests from agencies. Of course, they’re asking for more: Medicaid officials say an additional $156 million is needed to maintain services; Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, formerly known as the Department of Public Safety, seeks another $23.5 million to maintain its status quo. And that’s just a start.

Bentley, whose tax increase package was unceremoniously stonewalled last year, is offering nothing this year. “They know what they need to do,” he told the Associated Press. “I’m going to let them do that.”

Not surprisingly, there’s already talk of a state lottery measure, and deep cuts to state agencies that provide services to the people who sent all 140 lawmakers to Montgomery. There appears to be no willingness to consider anything else.

Meanwhile, Alabama collects the lowest amount of taxes per resident of any state in the union, according to the U.S. Census.

When our state’s infrastructure, services and education continue to suffer, it’s a dubious distinction to top such a list.

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