- Associated Press - Thursday, August 27, 2015

PELHAM, Ala. (AP) - State park closures and cutbacks to other outdoor activities are among the potential impacts of proposed budget cuts to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, officials said Thursday before asking citizens to call state lawmakers to ask that they preserve the department’s funding.

Department leaders and others gathered at Oak Mountain State Park and said they’ve absorbed millions of dollars’ worth of funding transfers to support the state’s general fund budget in the past four years.

Alabama State Parks Director Greg Lein said budgets that failed to pass during the regular and special session included additional funding transfers that could have severe impacts, and the parks system’s emergency and reserve funds have been depleted.

“We feel an obligation to our partners within the local government, the recreational communities that use these parks and our customers to be honest about our circumstances and to be honest about our concerns,” he said.

State lawmakers will spend a second special session working to pass a general fund budget by Oct. 1, when Alabama’s fiscal year begins. The state faces a projected $200 million shortfall and Republican Gov. Robert Bentley has tried garnering support for a proposal to generate $300 million in new taxes rather than cut state services.

Republicans hold a supermajority in both chambers of the Legislature. Some have taken a hard line against new taxes while others have been open to discussing potential revenue sources. Bentley has said cutting funding to Medicaid, mental health programs, law enforcement and other services would have a negative impact on all Alabamians, and generating new tax revenue is the only responsible solution.

Charles Sykes, director of the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, said he’d have been skeptical of state officials’ appeals in his position as a self-employed wildlife consultant three years ago.

“I probably would have fallen for the political rhetoric of we need smaller government, we need fiscal responsibility, we need to stop the waste in Montgomery. It was because I didn’t know what was going on with state government, much less what was happening with the department of conservation,” Sykes said.

He later added that additional funding transfers from the department’s budget could also impact hunters, anglers and revenue derived from the hobbies.

Other heads of state agencies are also traveling throughout Alabama explaining what potential funding cuts could mean to their departments if lawmakers don’t pass a budget in time. The move is part of an effort Bentley has organized among his cabinet members to galvanize support throughout the state for the tax proposal.

Last week, Alabama Secretary of Law Enforcement Spencer Collier was in Scottsboro to discuss how funding issues could impact the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. He’s scheduled to speak about the issue again in Mobile on Friday.

Alabama Department of Corrections officials are also hosting a media tour of the William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore Monday and plan to discuss how funding issues and overcrowding impact operations.

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