On Wednesday, Finance Director David Perry released a list of the items cut by the governor, after writing to BamaFactCheck.com to dispute the “Truth Rating” the organization gave to one of the governor’s statements about the cuts.
The Original Fact Check
In his State of the State address on March 1, Bentley said: “We have eliminated a total of 217 line items from the General Fund, including 185 earmarks and 32 entities such as commissions and boards.”
A few days later, BamaFactCheck.com asked Bentley’s staff for documentation to show the 217 eliminated line items. The governor’s spokeswoman, Jennifer Ardis, directed a reporter to a budget summary (avaliable here) that didn’t add up to 217 items.
When contacted about the apparent discrepancy, Ardis directed BamaFactCheck.com to Perry’s office. Perry said Ardis had provided the wrong budget document, and directed the reporter to another, more detailed document from the Legislative Fiscal Office. (See that document here.)
Perry said the items listed as “-100%” in the right-hand column of that document add up to a total of 217 eliminated line items.
Again, the numbers didn’t add up. Only 203 line items in that budget document were newly set at zero. Based on that document, BamaFactCheck rated Bentley’s statement as false –- and said so in a story published March 9.
Perry says the rating wasn’t fair. In an e-mail Wednesday to BamaFactCheck.com, Perry said we failed to report 24 legislative committee chairmanships that Bentley eliminated in his proposed budget.
Those chairmanships aren’t listed line-by-line in the budget document Perry originally provided -– but they are alluded to in a footnote that reads “Excludes local standing committees. Funds are to be expended under guidelines developed prior to the 2007 fiscal year.”
According to Perry, the 24 eliminated positions include the chairmanship or vice chairmanship of the Senate Confirmations Committee, the Senate Health Committee, and 22 others. In past budgets, those chairmen were paid either $31,500 or $13,500 per year, depending on the position. In Bentley’s 2012 budget, they’re paid nothing.
If the committee chairmanships are counted as line items, the total number of eliminated items comes out at 227. Perry said the governor’s count doesn’t include 10 line items listed as “conditional appropriations” – items that are requested, but aren’t funded unless the funds are available. Perry said it wouldn’t be fair to count those items as eliminated line items.
With the addition of 24 chairmanships and the subtraction of the 10 conditional appropriations, the total number of eliminated line items adds up to 217.
Perry said he could have shown BamaFactCheck.com the 24 additional items if we had contacted him with follow-up questions after our initial interview with him. He said he never got follow-up questions before the March 9 story, and Perry is right. Our follow-up query to Perry via e-mail was not delivered, something that went unnoticed by BamaFactCheck.com until Perry told us he’d not received the e-mail.
Perry said he saw the story the day it appeared on the Internet. But he didn’t respond for nearly a week.
“I saw it that night, and I ran it by the press office,” he said on Wednesday. “But we had just gotten so busy, it took some time to form a response.”
A new Truth Rating
Even with the new list of eliminated committees, it’s not entirely clear that Bentley eliminated 217 line items from the budget.
BamaFactCheck.com called Joyce Bigbee of the Legislative Fiscal Office, which prepares budget documents, to ask why the 24 committee chairmanships don’t appear on the budget document Perry provided. She said the document is just a summary of what appears, or will appear, in the Legislature’s appropriations bill. She said the appropriations bill is, for all intents and purposes, the state’s full, official budget.
Last year’s appropriations bill doesn’t list the 24 chairmanships as individual line items. They’re all lumped in as one single item under the Senate President Pro Tem’s budget.
“They’re not listed as line items in the budget summary because they’re not listed that way in the bill,” she said.
BamaFactCheck.com asked Perry if he had a document showing the complete budget, with 217 zeroed-out line items. He said he did have such a document, but said it was an internal Finance Department document. He did not provide that document to BamaFactCheck.com, saying via e-mail that it would require “several hours of explanation that you don’t need and I don’t have.”
He did provide a document listing the 217 items cut from the budget -– a document he said is based on the internal Finance Department document. (Editor's note: the document below is a PDF version of the document Perry sent us, which was an Excel file.)
On that basis, BamaFactCheck.com is upgrading the Truth Rating of Bentley’s statement from 1 to 3.
The administration has shown 217 cuts, and whether they’re actually “line items” is a relatively minor, semantic point.
What is being cut
Of more importance to voters is what is actually being cut -– and what those cuts mean to the overall budget.
Among the cuts is a complete elimination of funding for the legislative committees; and to a wide variety of agencies, such as Aid to Inmate Mothers, the Aliceville POW Museum, and the Anniston-McClellan Base Realignment and Closure Commission.
Perry’s list also identifies 185 eliminated earmarks and 32 other items Bentley considers to be “boards and commissions.”
And Perry's list tells us how much budget impact Bentley’s proposed cuts will have on the current budget crisis. Taken together, Bentley’s “line item” cuts would trim $33 million out of the $1.82 billion in the governor’s proposed General Fund budget for 2012.
Even with the cuts, the General Fund will spend $143 million more in 2012 than in 2011, if the governor’s proposal passes. Perry said the increase is largely due to the burgeoning cost of the state’s Medicaid program. Medicaid cost the state $345 million last year, and is budgeted for $648 million in 2012, an 87 percent increase.
In addition to the $33 million in savings from the eliminated “line items,” Bentley is suggesting more than $100 million in cuts other agencies. For instance, the budget for the Department of Industrial Relations would be cut by 45 percent, the Revenue Department would be cut by 40 percent and the Department of Economic and Community Affairs would be cut by 76 percent.
Even with the cuts, Bentley’s proposed budget is 8.6 percent larger than last year’s $1.67 billion General Fund budget. So Alabamians may have another round of cuts to discuss as the Legislature considers the budget this month.