Legislature should lead by fiscal example

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 30, 2012

A story reported this week by The Anniston Star probably would have been on Page 1 of most state newspapers Friday if the Supreme Court hadn’t usurped that real estate with its ruling on health care.


The Star reported that the Alabama Legislature – tasked with formulating budgets for all state agencies – is having a heck of a time living within its own, and is on track to be $3 million over budget by the time the fiscal year ends in September.


Figures from the Legislative Fiscal Office show the legislature has about $19.6 million to run the Statehouse through the 2012 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Pay for lawmakers and staff comes out of that sum, as do payments for utilities and security.


Year to date, the House and Senate have spent roughly $17 million to keep the Statehouse running — with three months left in the year. If both houses were to keep spending at their current rate — $1.8 million per month — they’d hit the $19.6 million mark sometime in August.


This is the same group that refused in its regular session chose a costly, short-term fix for next year’s ailing general fund budget by calling for a Constitutional Amendment that would essentially allow the state to borrow money from itself to balance the general fund for the 2012-2013 fiscal year. No provision is made for repayment, or for balancing the budget in successive years.


That band-aid approach will be considered in a special election in September. If it fails, presumably, Gov. Robert Bentley would call the legislature back in to session, further increases legislative expenses for the current fiscal year. Staff members estimated that a special session costs an additional $80,000 per week.


House and Senate staffers told The Star that trimming their costs is tough because most of its budget is in payroll for staff members and lawmakers. One staffer said that layoffs aren’t a good solution because severance would cost too much.


Meanwhile, House Speaker Mike Hubbard has advised lawmakers that they will not be compensated for travel through the end of the year.


Many current members of the legislature campaigned in 2010 on the issue of a pay raise approved by the previous legislature, yet they have not rescinded that pay raise, and many accepted cost-of-living raises after taking office.


By their actions, or unwillingness to take action on funding solutions, the legislature has forced many state agencies to make difficult decisions to trim jobs and cut services.


Certainly, they should already have set a similar example with their own finances.