- Associated Press - Monday, April 20, 2015

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Gov. Robert Bentley said it will be lawmakers’ fault if state parks close - and other state services are slashed - because of deep budget cuts that could become necessary without new revenue.

The governor, continuing his tour of speaking engagements to try to rally support for his proposed $541 million tax proposal, said he has proposed a solution to the state’s budget problem. It is up to lawmakers, he said, to pass it.

“We have a crisis, folks. It’s a real crisis,” Bentley said in a speech in Guntersville State Park, a place he called one of the most beautiful in the state. The park is one of 15 that could close, according to contingency plans prepared by the Alabama Department of Conservation.

The $1.8 billion general fund is expected to have a roughly $290 million shortfall next year. The state is simultaneously having increased needs in Medicaid and a demand from the federal government to repay Medicaid overpayments.

Lawmakers have yet to act on Bentley’s proposed tax package. Legislative leaders said discussions are ongoing about what to do about the budget.

“I’m not trying to cry wolf here. I’m just telling you what is going to happen,” Bentley said. “If there is another idea there, I am willing to listen. But we have to solve this issue and now is the time to do it.”

The Department of Conservation developed contingency plans for what to do if an austere budget is approved by lawmakers.

“It is absolutely real. I’m scared for the park system,” said Alabama State Parks Director Greg Lein. He said the parks since 2010 have faced a series of natural and man-made disasters - from tornadoes to the Gulf oil spill - that have affected guest traffic and revenue.

Lein said there are only seven parks that make a profit, with Gulf State Park being the only one that churns a significant profit. He said the other 15 of the state’s 22 parks would face closure in the next fiscal year.

The cuts would begin in May with the closure of four small state parks: Bladon Springs, Chickasaw, Buck’s Pocket and Paul Grist. Several others would be put on reduced operations. A total of 15 would be closed if deep budget cuts hit the department.

The size of any budget cuts is unknown. Lawmakers have not debated a budget in committee, let alone passed one.

In addition to state parks, Bentley said mental health treatment, services for children, funding for state troopers and “everything that is funded by the General Fund” will face cuts.

The other state parks that the Department of Conservation said could close next fiscal year are: Florala; Blue Springs; Roland Cooper; Rickwood Caverns; Cheaha Park; Lake Lurleen; DeSoto; Lakepoint; Guntersville; Joe Wheeler; and Frank Jackson.

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