Change taking over status quo

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Montgomery – In my first State of the State address, I tried to outline a brutally honest assessment of the financial crisis crippling Alabama’s public services and institutions.

My lean budget recommendations have been brutally honest as well.

Because of this, the Legislature now knows the storm is no longer looming over our Statehouse – it’s here.

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The state’s constitution forces me to write a budget based upon the amount of money in the treasury.

We have no ability to run a deficit.

Basically, the state’s accounts have no ‘overdraft’ protection. We have to work with what we have, not what we need, and we’re working with $500 million less than we had last year.

Because of that shortfall, budgets for prisons could be cut by 18.8 percent; courts by 17.5 percent; mental health by 10.5 percent; human resources by 14.6 percent; environmental management by 18.8 percent; public universities by 3.8 percent; two-year colleges by 4.2 percent; K-12 classroom instruction by 3.4 percent; educational operations by 13.4 percent; state troopers by 18.8 percent; and the state’s agriculture and industries budget by 25.8 percent, along with many other cuts that would gouge deep into the vital infrastructure and services needed by so many Alabamians.

In essence, our beloved state has found itself in the throws of a financial meltdown the likes of which haven’t been seen since the Great Depression.

I’ve pledged to never allow this crisis to harm the citizens our government was instituted to protect.

Starting from my office, I’ve ordered cost-saving measures throughout state government to prevent these cuts.

I’ve reduced the governor’s office staff by 30 percent, ordered agencies to cut personnel costs by five percent, forbid gratuitous out-of-state travel, ordered a reassessment of the need of our state’s 7,900 vehicle automobile fleet, and have demanded that state employees break the old habit of spending money without first justifying the expenditure against the harsh realities of the $500 million shortfall.

The pessimists and skeptics among us – though few and far between – expected the people of Alabama to cower at this dire news and fall victim to self-pity and self-interest.

But the opposite is happening.

Once the immoral affects of our broken government could no longer be hidden, once the divisions between us began harming those weakest among us, once the honest truth was revealed in no uncertain terms, the people of Alabama became, in a word, hopeful.

Because with every problem we’ve uncovered, we’re also finding solutions.

If we’re going to implement those solutions, we cannot afford to stumble on what lies behind us.

The ox is in the ditch, as they say, and arguing about how it got there is pointless.

There’s no since in blaming one another for this crisis.

There’s no sense in holding grudges or avoiding new coalitions because of old disagreements.

I have long believed that honesty breeds hope, and no matter how long the row or tough the field, Alabamians can face any crisis as long as we’re told the truth.

Now that we’re aware of the problems, we’re ready for the solutions.

From the shoals to the shores, Alabamians are preparing themselves for reform, and I’m pleased to see that the momentum of change is beginning to overtake the destructive inertia of the status quo.