A Brief History of Alabama’s Budget Crisis: Why voters shoulder part of the blame too

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala (WHNT) - We've heard a lot of feedback about the current legislative dilemma over Alabama's shortfall in the general fund.

One viewer writes, "I've heard so much about the $700 million dollar shortfall in the budget. I would really like WHNT to explain what changed from last year to this year and did the election cause the issues to be hushed by politicians until they were assured of retaining their jobs."

WHNT News 19 took action to answer that question.

Are the legislature's issues with the general fund new? No.

In fact, WHNT News 19's Political Analyst Jess Brown says, "The general fund has been structurally underfunded for more than a generation."

Though you can certainly see a turn for the legislature in 2010. Brown notes, "Since 2010, they've borrowed $599 million from what's known as the Alabama tax payer's savings account, called the Alabama Trust Fund."

Both parties participated in that borrowing. The Democrats lead the charge on first lump-sum; Republicans leading the charge on the second.

But you cannot lay this solely at the feet of legislators. Voters need to take some responsibility too.

Brown adds, "All $599 million that's been drawn out of the state's savings account has been authorized by voters at the ballot box."

$437 million of that borrowing came from this special amendment to the constitution, put up for vote in September of 2012.

WHNT News 19 spelled it out what was happening. For instance, take the video in this story from September 2012: "Vote yes, and you allow the government to take money from state savings to cover financial shortfalls. Vote no, and the state will not be allowed to take the money, forcing them to balance the budget by either cutting services or finding-slash-creating new revenue. This is your chance to influence the direction of our government's budget in a very real way."

That September 2012 vote came back 65% to 35% in favor of the over four-hundred million in borrowing to keep the state budget afloat.

Right after the vote, Governor Robert Bentley spoke candidly about what the borrowing did for us, "This just gives us a little breathing room to get through this difficult time. We still have a long way to go."

Now the state legislature has to travel that whole, long way in a hurry.