Voters to decide agencies’ fates

Published 12:04 am Friday, September 7, 2012

The fate of many Alabama agencies lies in the hands of Alabama voters come Sept. 18.

That’s the date Alabama will hold a special election to consider a Constitutional Amendment. The amendment will allow lawmakers to move funds of nearly $146 million each year over the next three years from the state’s oil and gas reserves to the general fund budget to help alleviate more cuts to state agencies.

The General Fund provides tax dollars to non-education agencies such as the state’s court and prison systems, the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Mental Health, the Department of Public Health and the state’s Medicaid program.

Additionally, the General Fund provides for food safety, and funding for rural fire departments and first responders – law enforcement, firefighters and paramedic services.

Organizers of the Keep Alabama Working campaign said that Alabamians need to vote yes on Sept. 18 to save 10,000 jobs in Alabama; to stop the release of 9,500 prison inmates; to keep hospitals, nursing homes and doctors’ offices from closing; and to keep Children’s Hospital and pediatricians across the state from losing the resources needed to provide care for children.

Medicaid provides health and long-term care to low-income individuals and families in Alabama.

While much of the funding for Medicaid comes directly from the federal government, Alabama must match a portion of the money.

In fact, for every dollar Alabama spends on Medicaid, it is matched by nearly $2 in federal spending.

Many state officials argue that without approval from voting Alabamians on Sept. 18, the state may not have the funding to meet the federal match requirement, which could result in the loss of millions of dollars for health care from the federal government.

When faced with a gaping hole in the state’s General Fund budget, the legislature opted not to make deep cuts, or to approve new taxes.

Instead, they approved a budget of nearly $1.7 billion for FY 2013, which is slated to begin Oct. 1, but in order to balance the budget; they also approved a proposed Constitutional Amendment to allow the state to transfer the money from the Alabama Trust Fund.

State law requires Alabama have a balanced budget.

State Health Officer Dr. Don Williamson has spoken out in favor of the amendment, even saying without the three-year “bridge” that would be created if the amendment passes, the Medicaid system could be damaged beyond repair.

Williamson said the reason is because the state’s operation is already “bare bones.”

“If the Sept. 18 amendment fails, and Medicaid is inadequately funded, we will see all our health services deteriorate as many of our rural hospitals and nursing homes will be forced to close their doors,” Williamson said. “Doctors whose practices include a significant number of Medicaid patients may be forced to close or move out of state.”

Williamson said there are more than 900,000 Alabamians who depend on Medicaid for health care insurance, which costs the state nearly $615 million in state funds.

In fact, 43 percent of all Alabama children are insured by Medicaid, and one half of the births of children in Alabama are paid for by Medicaid.