Cutting the fat essential to future

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 8, 2003

"Nothing is worse - than for government officials, bureaucrats and agencies to waste the money entrusted to them by the people they serve."

And nothing is worse for Alabama's finances than to allow that waste to continue.

For Gov. Bob Riley, who spoke those strong words at a recent editorial board meeting, cutting state spending is the first step in a plan to offset Alabama's $500 million budget shortfall.

To describe Riley's plan as a critical first step underemphasizes the importance of what he has set about to accomplish. Government is often ripe with opportunities for expense cuts, and Riley's team is targeting those opportunities with the fearless confidence of business executives who have lived and learned that the simplest way to increase profitability - or in this case avoid bankruptcy - is to spend less than you take in.

Line-by-line, item by item, Riley and his team are examining the state's expenses, and they are ordering cuts:

Forcing the resolution of a lingering Department of Transportation lawsuit will save the state an estimated $500,000 in legal fees.

Eliminating per diem travel expenses for out-of-state travel will save as much as $6.1 million annually.

Revoking state cars permanently assigned to employees will save about $7 million.

An across-the-board, 5 percent reduction in payroll expenses for each department will save about $75 million each year.

And by utilizing a purchasing agent - and monitoring purchases as small as copy paper and as large as vehicles - the state can save upwards of $11.7 million each year.

So far, Riley's team has found about $127 million annually in expense savings. The cuts are not enough, of course. Even with increases in state tax collections, we need to find an additional $280 million to offset the budget shortfall.

But to the taxpayers of Alabama the cuts show a serious commitment to create a government worthy of the public's trust - and that commitment will prove important when the governor has to ask for changes in tax structure to generate the additional revenue we need to end Alabama's financial crisis.