- Associated Press - Saturday, September 26, 2015

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Many state departments will be making do with less money when the fiscal year begins on Thursday despite a last-minute budget deal that shielded critical state agencies.

But some state agency chiefs are remaining quiet thus far on what, if any, program reductions might be required as they review their spending plans with the administration of Gov. Robert Bentley.

“The Governor and Finance Director are reviewing the General Fund impact to all state agencies, and we do not yet know the specific impact,” Bentley Communications Director Jennifer Ardis said. “October 1 is an important date, and we are working now to get ready for the start of the fiscal year.”

For months, some state agencies had warned of cataclysmic closures and reductions if they received a budget cut or, in some cases, level funding. The Alabama Legislature - after seven months of deadlock and GOP infighting over tax increases - recently approved a spending plan that maintains level funding to Medicaid, prisons, mental health services, the Department of Human Resources, the Department of Pardons and Paroles and the court system. Most other agencies will see cuts of about 5.5 percent.

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, which had warned about the potential closure of drivers’ license offices, said through a spokeswoman that it was reviewing the budget and had no comment. The state park system similarly declined comment



A Department of Corrections spokesman said this week that the department is reviewing the approved budget and, “cannot address specific information on the budget’s impact.” The prisons system received level funding.

The approved $1.75 billion budget contains about $82 million in cuts. Legislative leaders described those as “workable” cuts that shouldn’t cause major disruptions.

Bentley is objecting to language inserted into the budget that restricts how agencies will be able to spend their money. The language says that the Law Enforcement Agency, for example, is expected to keep all drivers’ license offices and trooper posts open and that agency reductions should come from administrative costs.

Bentley said he thinks the spending choices constitute an infringement on the powers of the executive branch and asked the Alabama Supreme Court to issue an opinion on the legality of that language.

The Republican Senate leader, who was frequently at odds with Bentley in the governor’s push for taxes, criticized Bentley’s objections.

“The governor reviewed the budget and signed the budget. It’s unfortunate that now he wants to find ways to cut services to the taxpayers instead of downsizing nonessential government services as the legislature intended,” Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said in a statement.

Neal Morrison, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Senior Services, said he is working with the governor on how to handle a $1.4 million funding reduction.

“Ultimately the governor makes the final decision,” Morrison said

Morrison said his goal - whether through reducing travel or not filling vacant positions - is to avoid any impact to the agency’s meal delivery service. “If we do nothing, there are roughly 380,000 meals that would have to be cut out. But we are not going to do nothing,” Morrison said.

Rich Hobson, director of the Alabama Administrative Office of Courts, said the state court system will need additional funds this coming fiscal year to avoid reductions.

“Given the current government climate in the state, the trial courts are thankful for the funding we received. However, the trial courts are still inadequately funded and will be relying heavily on approved conditional appropriations to materialize,” Hobson said.

The budget does not provide the funding level that Medicaid officials said would be needed to continue with implementation a regionally managed care system. However, Bentley said he hopes to use lawsuit settlement money, and additional money from state hospitals, to fulfill conditional appropriations that were placed in the budget.

“We deeply appreciate the commitment the Legislature has made to fund essential health care services for more than one million Alabama citizens on Medicaid during the next year.” Medicaid Acting Commissioner Stephanie Azar said.

The budget cuts require state employees to pay $15 more per month for their health insurance and also to pay higher drugs costs under the approved budget. The board that oversees the program approved the changes this week.

Department of Human Resources Commissioner Nancy Buckner said last week that the budget could cause a slight reduction in the number of subsidized child care slots. However, she said the department will not have major reductions in services.

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