Alabama state non-education employees would not get a cost-of-living raise or merit pay raises under a $1.74 billion General Fund budget approved Wednesday by the Senate Finance and Taxation-General Fund Committee.
The budget for 2013-14 is mostly level with the budget for the current fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. It is just a slight increase from the budget recommended by Gov. Robert Bentley. The chairman of the committee, Republican Sen. Arthur Orr of Decatur, said the economy is improving but there is still a shortage of tax revenue for the General Fund budget.
A judge has dismissed a lawsuit that contended Alabama's $1.7 billion General Fund budget violated state laws requiring balance budgets.
Former Republican state Sen. John Rice of Auburn filed the lawsuit in August. He contended the fiscal 2013 budget was improper because it was based on voters approving a constitutional amendment in September to transfer nearly $146 million a year for three years to the General Fund. He contended that basing the budget on revenue not yet in hand violated state law. Voters approved the transfer Sept. 18.
About 22 percent of Alabama's voters turned out to approve a constitutional amendment withdrawing $437 million from a state trust fund to help balance the state General Fund budget for the next three years. Unofficial returns compiled by The Associated Press show about 600,000 of Alabama's 2.67 million voters participated in Tuesday's special election, and they approved the constitutional amendment 65 percent to 35 percent. The turnout was in line with the 20 to 21 percent predicted by Alabama's chief election official, Secretary of State Beth Chapman.
Election officials say the turnout for Alabama's single-issue election is light. Voters are deciding Tuesday whether to take $437 million out of a state trust fund to help balance the state General Fund budget for the next three years. Pike County Probate Judge Wes Allen says the turnout in his south Alabama county could end up between 10 and 13 percent. Election officials in other counties say turnout picked up when the rain stopped, but it's still going to be small. Montgomery County is an exception. Elections Director Justin Aday said turnout could end up being 25 to 30 percent.
The Alabama Nursing Home Association is proud of the fact that at least one nursing home is available in every county in the state. But if the budget referendum taking place tomorrow fails that effort could be in danger. John Matson is a spokesman for the Alabama Nursing Home Association. He says a vote of "no" tomorrow could spell deep cuts on the horizon.
About 50 people gathered on the steps of the Alabama Capitol to urge residents to vote "no" Tuesday on a constitutional amendment to allow the transfer of $437.4 million from the Alabama Trust Fund to be used for Medicaid, prisons and other state services. Holding signs urging voters to not "bust" the trust fund, the demonstrators Thursday listened to representatives of grassroots groups who said the principle from the fund, established by former Gov. Fob James, was never meant to be spent.
Politically active real estate developer Stan Pate of Tuscaloosa says he's planning a media campaign in the next few days to encourage no votes on Alabama's referendum Sept. 18. Pate says Alabama residents elected a Republican governor and Republican-controlled Legislature in 2010 because they wanted less government. He said GOP leaders are doing the opposite by pushing a constitutional amendment that would take $437 million out of a state trust fund to prop up the state General Fund budget for the next three years. Gov.
Alabama's chief election official is expecting a small turnout for the special election Sept. 18 because of the lack of advertising and the unusual date.
Secretary of State Beth Chapman said the turnout for constitutional amendment elections usually is very low.
The exceptions were the lottery vote in 1999 and the tax hike vote in 2003, which hit 50 percent or more. But she said those were backed by millions in advertising. That hasn't been the case with the upcoming election.
Chapman said she's expecting a turnout of 20 to 21 percent, but that may be optimistic.
The state's troubled General Fund is getting nearly $550,000 from a raid on a gambling hall in Lowndes County. Attorney General Luther Strange's office announced that Circuit Judge Robert Vance approved the forfeiture of the money to state. Alabama's gambling task force seized the money during a raid on electronic bingo machines at the White Hall Entertainment Center in March 2009. The operators, Cornerstone Community Outreach and Freedom Trail Ventures, recently agreed to forfeit the $549,981. The judge approved it in a one-paragraph order Tuesday.
A former State senator has filed a lawsuit in state court in Montgomery claiming that legislators violated the Alabama Constitution earlier this year by passing a 2013 budget that was not balanced. The 2013 General Fund budget, which goes into effect Oct. 1, relies on a transfer of approximately $467 million from the Alabama Trust Fund into state coffers over the next three years. Voters must approve the transfer in a constitutional amendment on the ballot Sept. 18. If the amendment is rejected, the state budget would have to be cut significantly.
Gov. Robert Bentley says he and legislative leaders are committed to paying back the money if Alabama voters agree to take more than $437 million from a state trust fund to balance the state General Fund budget for three years.