The Alabama Senate approved a budget plan on Monday that would slash millions of dollars from Medicaid, mental health services, law enforcement and other state agencies.
Senators voted 19-15 for the cut-filled spending plan after lawmakers remained unable to agree in a special session on how to fill a budget shortfall. The House of Representatives will now decide whether to go along with the budget or send the bill to a conference committee.
Legislators rejected Gov. Robert Bentley‘s call for $302 million in taxes. Instead, the Senate-passed budget cuts nearly $200 million from state agencies. The budget is similar to one passed by lawmakers in June and vetoed by Bentley.
“I think the citizens expect us to live within our means as they live within theirs’ and that is what we’ve done,” Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston said. “The appetite is not there in my opinion in the Senate to raise taxes and quite honestly it must not be there in the House.”
The vote was uncharacteristically close in the Alabama Senate where Republicans hold a lopsided majority. Both Republicans and Democrats criticized the cuts, predicting they would have dire consequences on state services.
“I plead with the governor to pocket veto it. I don’t care what you do with it, but please don’t pass this budget because it will be devastating to my district. It will be devastating to the people in my area and I have no question it will be devastating to the people of Alabama,” said Sen Paul Bussman, R-Cullman.
If the budget wins final approval, the cuts would take effect in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
The Senate-passed budget would cut $31 million from the state’s Medicaid program, $5.3 million from the Department of Mental Health, $13 million from the court system and $14.7 million from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency.
The budget does allow a total $15.5 million increase to the state prison system and the state parole board to maintain efforts to alleviate severe crowding in state prisons. Legislators have said they fear federal intervention in the prison system, which holds nearly twice as many inmates as it was originally designed to house. Part of the money would go to the hiring of additional probation and parole officers.
Bentley vetoed a similar budget passed by lawmakers in June and brought lawmakers back into special session. By law, the special session must conclude Tuesday, which means Bentley could pocket veto the budget. Some senators said they expect Bentley to bring them back into a second special session.
Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, challenged other senators to make the “hard choice” on tax votes.
“I don’t like taxes, But we find our backs against a wall and things are going to happen on Oct. 1 if we don’t fund a solution and those things are not going to be good for our state They are going to be irreparable,” Chambliss said.
Republished with permission of The Associated Press.