General fund budget heads to Senate - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

General fund budget heads to Senate

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MONTGOMERY - AL -

More money may have to be pulled from a state savings account to fund Alabama agencies and services. In 2012, voters okayed the state pulling money from the Alabama Trust Fund. As the general fund budget stands, 145 million dollars will be needed.

The budget passed by the House Wednesday night also calls for millions of dollars in one time monies. But that still does not give more funding to the overcrowded prison system or allow for employee pay raises. Some lawmakers say that's a problem.

Prison overcrowding is an issue and may continue to be one. That's because the 1.8 billion dollar general fund is also packed.

"Medicaid took up such a large portion of the growth in the general fund. We were stuck with that," said Rep. Jack Williams, (R) Vestavia Hills.

House Republicans stick with the decision not to expand the state's Medicaid program saying it would cost Alabamians 80 to 90 million dollars in the end.

Most lawmakers agree- the prison system must be fixed. But some senators believe more money must go into the system immediately.

The federal government has already put the state on notice and could get more involved if the state doesn't act fast.

"I think at least in the short term, we need a one time appropriation to deal with upgrades in Tutwiler including security and space available," said Senator Cam Ward, (R) Alabaster.

Solving the prison problems would involve cutting money from other agencies. It's a short term fix.

But in the long run, some senators say there needs to be restructuring of the sentencing procedures to get minor offenders out faster.

Lawmakers are already relying on a temporary solution. The budget heading to the Senate is propped up with 250 million dollars of one time monies and another 145 million from the Alabama Trust Fund. Is it fiscally responsible?

"We continue to rely on it and at the end of the day, no one can say why," said Rep. Juandalynn Givan, (D) Birmingham.

Some senators say budgets have been balance with one time monies every year for more than a decade. They may be okay with continuing the practice.

"I want to look back at what this actually was used for," said Senator Rodger Smitherman, (D) Birmingham, of the proposed allocation of those monies.

"We have to make do with what we have and hope we make it to next year," said Ward.

The budget is on the way to the Senate. It's expected to go to the floor for debate next week.

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