Governor unveils growing education budget, tight general fund - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Governor unveils growing education budget, tight general fund

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MONTGOMERY - AL -

It appear as if there will be no massive state cuts or layoffs. The state's finance director calls the governor's 2014 budgets "fair."

On paper, the state budgets couldn't be any different. The education trust fund is growing and allowing for program expansions and pay increases. But the general fund needed more than 400 million dollars pulled from reserves to balance it over the next few years.

Most state agencies will maintain current levels of funding. But others, like the pre-K program, will see an increase.

The pre-k students at South Shelby Baptist Learning Center are all over the room working on computers, sorting out puzzles and learning through touch.

"It's lots of hands on learning instead of sitting down and doing sheets," explained director Wendy Pierce.

Governor Robert Bentley is giving the state pre-k program another 12.5 million dollars to expand and whittle down the wait list due to its success.

"They [parents] tell us their children when they enter kindergarten are reading already and having an easier time," said Pierce. 

All public school staff will also get a two and half percent pay raise. But other state employees won't because they're paid through the general fund and money had to be pulled from reserves to balance it.

"To take that [reserve money] and then provide raises to general fun agencies, the governor wasn't sure that was a good precedent to set," said Dr. Marquita Davis, the state's finance director.

Most state agencies will maintain current funding, even Medicaid. But agency's director says current services will be maintained.

"We didn't have to cut agencies. We didn't have to pick which ones were winners or losers," said Davis.

Prisons will get more for to cover higher inmate health insurance, more corrections officers and security cameras at the women's prison where there have been reports of abuse.

But state agencies will have to absorb the cost of higher employee insurance. However, the finance director says it's not enough to trigger layoffs.

"The general fund has limited resources and we have to live within our means," said Davis.

The general fund budget doesn't include repayment of the borrowed money. It's up to lawmakers to find a solution. Democrats are proposing doing it with a cigarette tax.

The governor's budgets are just starting points. They will have to be approved by lawmakers and will likely undergo changes.

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