State Senator Arthur Orr discusses the budget problems

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Morgan County, Ala. (WHNT) – Senator Arthur Orr (R) of Morgan County is the Chairman of the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee and the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee.  It’s common knowledge that the legislature did not pass a budget for the 2016 fiscal year this session and a special session will be called to further debate this issue.

A budget passed through both the House and the Senate but was not accepted by Governor Bentley.  The Governor believes there needs to be more revenue.  When asked how he would characterize that budget, Senator Orr replied, “Well it was a budget that quite frankly I agreed with the Governor in that we were looking at cuts, even at five percent let’s say in the Corrections Department, and they can’t sustain any more cuts. If they were to sustain such a cut even at the five percent level, we’re looking at the prison population going over two hundred percent which is the highest in the country, and we’re already the highest in the country at a 190-percent. And we’re looking at 220-percent capacity, closing down two facilities if that budget had become law. You look at the court system. In that area you’re looking at an almost ten percent cut, and quite frankly we would not be holding court, and what does that mean? It means criminals backing up in the courtroom, or accused individuals backing up in the court room. You get speedy trial issues. People wanting divorces, child custody cases reconciled, and family courts and domestic courts, and on down the list. And it just causes wide scale problems across the state, when we don’t adequately fund these various agencies.”

The budget that didn’t pass had cuts for everything from the state parks to the state troopers that many lawmakers opposed.  But yet, the Senate did pass a budget, and then the House signed off on it, and the Governor immediately vetoed it. When you knew the budget wasn’t enough, why did it even pass?  Sen. Arthur Orr stated that, “Well, quite frankly I didn’t vote for it. A lot of my colleagues did, and I think the understanding was that the Governor was going to veto it anyway. But as I said earlier, I share his concerns, and I have no problem cutting various agencies, however the level of the cuts across various agencies, quite frankly would create much more problems in the long-term.”

The Governor has 541 million dollars in tax hikes that he would like the legislature to sign off on and include this and with that kind of revenue we’d be okay with the general fund budget, but it appears there’s a lot of difference in the legislature among the legislators about if we accept any tax hikes at all, or which ones we do accept if we accept some. When asked his opinion of where we are on that issue, Sen. Orr had this to say, “You’ve got several different things moving around. One that came up in the session, the regular session, dealt with a stabilization fund where we have earmarked money in that stabilization fund that can’t be spent. And it’s sitting there, and it’s estimated that fund will be approximately 400-million dollars at the end of fiscal year ’16.  So here you have a significant amount of money we can’t get do. For some legislators including myself, I scratch my head and go, well if we’ve got 400-million dollars that’s estimated to be there, and we need probably say around 200 million just to level fund state agencies, somewhere in that area. Why not take the money out of the savings account and move it to where it’s needed before there’s any discussion of new taxes. That’s a discussion that’s going on and will continue to go on. In Governor Bentley’s figure, he includes some things that do need addressing such as paying back rainy day dollars, and we transfer 63-million dollars annually out of the department of transportation, and that’s road and bridge money, and we send it to the court system, and the troopers to help shore them up. So there’s some things that he’s factored in that will solve the problem long-term, and for that I commend him.”

See our full conversation with the Senator here in three parts: