Riley prepares state for cuts

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 3, 2003

MONTGOMERY - Governor Bob Riley addressed the state from the capitol building Monday night on cuts which will affect all state agencies and some non-state agencies.

Similar to Riley's speech following the referendum defeat last week, the governor once again mentioned the state showed a clear display of true democracy.

"The people have spoken," he said. "It's their government not ours (the lawmakers). They have said they want a smaller government they can believe in. The vote on Sept. 9 wasn't a rejection, but a chosen path to reaffirm people's trust in state government.

"We are going to have to get the most efficient use of funds on-hand and not undermine the people's will. We must not seek short-term fixes of the problems which plague our state. The people have spoken, and they are waiting to see if we are listening."

Riley said the state has received a one-time use federal grant of $265 million, with $115 million going towards Medicaid and the other $150 million going towards need as deemed necessary.

There will still be a shortfall of over $400 million, which will come from cuts that "none of us want to make," continued Riley.

"There will be about $60 million cut from the Educational Trust Fund and about $39 million from the General Fund," he said.

Cuts will also be made to state services, such as overcrowded prisons, said Riley.

"Prisons and jails in the state were designed to hold 13,000 prisoners, and as of tonight, there are 27,000 prisoners," he said. "To avoid federal takeover of the prisons, there will be a temporary increase in the number of parole officers to increase the rate of releasing prisoners."

Riley said retaining state authority on prisons is important, because federal interests have already costs the state enough.

Other revenue will be generated through an increase in teachers' co-pay medical service and "across-the-board cuts for state agencies and some non-state agencies such as Children's Hospital in Birmingham." Riley said he remains optimistic, however, about the Special Session, which convened today.

"We must make steps towards real change," he said. "Much remains to be done, and we have 15 days to adjust a budget which the Legislature can adopt. We face difficult times and difficult choices ahead."

The state should never stop for change, added Riley, because then and only then, we can say, "better days are yet to come."