- Associated Press - Thursday, June 4, 2015

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Gov. Robert Bentley on Thursday vetoed an austere general fund budget that cut $200 million from state agencies, vowing to bring lawmakers back into special session until they get a workable spending plan.

“We will solve this problem,” Bentley said outside the Alabama Capitol.

The tumultuous 2015 legislative session ended without a general fund budget after lawmakers could not agree on taxes or other revenue ideas. Lawmakers unsuccessfully negotiated behind the scenes on revenue ideas for months as Bentley warned that the cuts would cause dramatic reductions in state services.

The GOP-controlled Alabama Legislature on Thursday night approved the pared-down budget, which Bentley immediately vetoed. The House overrode the governor’s veto, but the Senate had already adjourned the session for the year so the action was meaningless.

The lack of a resolution means state agencies are without a spending plan for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. But Bentley said that is better than the budget lawmakers passed.

The vetoed $1.6 billion budget would have cut funding to Medicaid, the Department of Human Resources, prisons and the Department of Mental Health by about 5 percent. Other state agencies would see deeper reductions.

Legislators already had an eye on the special session as they cast their votes.

“I know it’s not something that any of us wanted to pass,” House General Fund Budget Chair Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, said of the budget. “I want to just encourage everybody to let’s come back into special session with a new attitude to try to find a solution to fill the holes in this general fund because we’ve got a long way to go.”

Bentley said he has not decided on a time frame for the special session.

“I really will not bring the Legislature back until they have their minds right,” he said.

Alabama lawmakers began the session facing a $200 million shortfall in the fiscal year that begins in October, and unmet needs in prisons and Medicaid. Republican Bentley proposed $541 million in new taxes, but his push was largely rejected by the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Other ideas - ranging from gambling to cigarette taxes - bubbled up during the session that began in March, but quickly withered under opposition. House Republicans at one point backed a $151 million tax package, but the bills didn’t get a vote after Senate leaders indicated the bills would fail in that chamber.

The veto capped a session that was at times marred by tensions and disagreements over the budget.

Democrats criticized the GOP legislators’ handling of the budget crisis.

“You ought to be ashamed of the budget you are willing to put out on the street -how it’s going to hurt families, how it’s going to hurt children, how it’s going to hurt agencies,” said Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro.

Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee Chairman Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said the session had been “extremely frustrating.”

“It took time for an agreement that there really is a significant problem and that just passing a cut budget is not the best answer to the problem,” Orr said.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said many senators won’t support additional revenue, unless they believe it is what the public wants in a state he says is still reeling from the economic downturn.

“Until the people have the outcry, I don’t see the sentiment of this body changing,” Marsh said.



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