HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Alabamians head to the polls again September 18th, just weeks after municipal elections.
This time around, voters will be deciding on a proposed constitutional amendment.
That amendment will allow lawmakers to take money out of a rainy day savings fund that was previously restricted.
Lawmakers say they need the funds to cover budget shortfalls and other services.
The proposed state amendment would allow lawmakers in Montgomery to get their hands on previously restricted savings.
Dr. Jess Brown explains, “It authorizes them to borrow up to $147 million dollars each year for the next three years, and there is nothing in the wording of the amendment that requires them to pay this roughly half-a-billion dollars back into the trust fund.”
But WHNT News 19 Political Analyst Dr. Jess Brown surmises the blow to state savings may be greater than lawmakers want to admit.
Dr. Brown says, “If they don’t pay back what they’ve already borrowed. And they don’t pay back any of they want to borrow with this amendment. And you add to that the lost interest income, I would argue they’re going to set in motion depleting half the fund.”
Dr. Brown thinks for lawmakers, the bottom line is this, “Three years from now, four years from now, we’ll be in the same basic fix all over again. The basic problem in Alabama is we have a government we don’t want to pay for.”
But cutting away at that government and raising taxes are both unpleasant for lawmakers.
Dipping into savings though is just an amendment away.
But if the amendment fails, lawmakers say critical services could be at risk.
Nursing home support, prison funding, and educational dollars might all take a hit if the general fund falls short.
Dr. Brown assesses, “I sense that the hope is it will pass because the voter turnout will be so low, and only people directly affected by the services at risk will be the only ones to vote.”
But he wonders if lawmakers are playing up the fear of funding cuts, “If you’ve got an elderly relative in a nursing home, they scare you. If you’re a teacher or parent of a school child, they scare you. They then tell you that a large percentage of the prison population may have to be released. They scare you. There’s nothing about this proposal so far that’s been designed to appeal to the rational side of us.”
Dr. Brown says Alabamians generally view these issues the same way, “The rational side of us says if it’s a critical service, generate revenue and pay the bills. If it’s not a critical service, delete it or reduce it.”
But it remains unclear how voters will respond to the proposal to borrow from state savings.