- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 2, 2016

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Alabama lawmakers began the 2016 legislative session on Groundhog Day with familiar budget woes that could spell funding cuts for many state agencies.

The Legislative Fiscal Office on Tuesday told lawmakers that the general fund budget will have about $95 million less to spend in the next fiscal year. Acting Finance Director Bill Newton said the state will have 10 percent less than the amount Gov. Robert Bentley feels is needed to maintain government services, but did not give a specific figure.

The difficult budget comes after legislators spent much of 2015 battling over how to fill a General Fund funding shortfall. Newton said lawmakers face a “very similar” situation this year.

“Do you remember the movie Groundhog Day?” Newton said in reference to the 1993 movie where Bill Murray’s character must live the same day over and over until he finally gets it right.

Legislators said that unlike last year, there is little appetite now for tax increases, making it more difficult to close the gap.

“We’ve all been tasked with taking a few pieces of fish and a couple of loaves of bread to feed the multitudes with. … so we’ve got a big task ahead of us,” said House Ways and Means General Fund Chairman Steve Clouse, R-Ozark.

Lawmakers last year met in two special sessions before approving a cigarette tax increase and other measures to minimize cuts to state agencies, but some cuts still had to be made.

“I think that’s a nonstarter based on what happened last year,” said Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Chairman Trip Pittman.

Pittman said absent new revenue, “there will be some real cuts in some of the departments and allocations.”

Bentley will present his ideas when he gives his proposed budget to lawmakers on Wednesday.

Rep. Merika Coleman-Evans, D-Pleasant Grove, criticized what she said is a general unwillingness among lawmakers to look at various revenue options. She said they should consider changing corporate taxes to stop large companies from avoiding taxes by shifting profits out of state. Gambling legislation should also come up for consideration, she said.

Alabama government spending is divided into two budgets: the Education Trust Fund that pays for education spending and the general fund that pays for Medicaid, prisons, child welfare serves and other non-education services.

The state’s education budget, which is fueled by income and sales taxes - revenue sources that tend to grow with the economy - is in better shape. The Legislative Fiscal Office projected the education budget will grow by $382 million.

Bentley and lawmakers in both parties have said they want to use part of that increase for a pay raise for teachers.

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