Budget includes accountability

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 7, 2003

The citizens of Alabama deserve to know that their hard-earned tax dollars are not being wasted.

For the past two weeks, during most of the special session, I have taken a stand to make state government more accountable to my constituents.

Although sometimes unpopular and often unsuccessful, I voted for numerous measures which would stretch every state dollar and make the operations of state government more transparent.

When Gov. Bob Riley called the Legislature into session, legislators were presented with the fact that there is less money this year to run state government and our education system than in years past.

In fact, the governor called for dramatic across-the-board cuts in education and the services our state agencies provide. The problems we encountered have also provided legislators with an opportunity to make real changes in the way state government operates and the way money is allocated and spent.

For instance, there are a number of non-education entities and private organizations which receive funding from the state’s education budget.

Although many of these groups are important and serve a worthwhile purpose, they should not be funded with public education dollars. We should instead be spending that money in the classrooms.

I supported efforts to eliminate public funding for these private entities. Additionally, I supported legislation to force the state to create a budget based on prior-year revenue rather than on projections of what the state may have next year.

Quite frankly, we do not know what condition the economy will be next month, much less next year.

It is irresponsible for legislators to base a budget on what a small group of individuals predict our state’s economy will look like next year.

In addition to changing the way we spend and budget funds, I also voted to distribute the effects of financial cuts fairly.

For example, I voted to eliminate contract employees before terminating state merit employees.

I also voted to require that reductions in the state workforce include supervisors, mid-management and top managers. All too often, when layoffs become a necessity, front-line workers are the first to feel the effects. I believe that if state agencies must lay off any employees, the burden should be felt from the top to the bottom of that agency.

Finally, a number of people have told me they voted against Amendment One because they simply did not trust state government with an extra billion dollars.

With that in mind, I supported efforts to punish officials who hide money for pet projects. By making pass-through pork a Class C felony, we would have sent a strong signal that &uot;business as usual&uot; in state government is no longer acceptable.

I also voted to make it a misdemeanor for any constitutional official to influence a legislator’s vote with the promise of financial incentives.

Finally, with so much overlap in our two and four-year schools, I supported funding a commission which would help begin the process of eliminating many of the redundant education programs in higher education.

The message you have sent me is clear &045; create a more fiscally responsible budget and get tough on those elected officials who have made a business out of state corruption.

Although many of these measures and proposals to accomplish these goals failed to pass during this short session, when the Legislature reconvenes in February, I will continue to push for these important reforms.

Without question, the fight over the past weeks has been difficult, but with your continued support, I am confident that we can pass the legislation necessary to make sure your tax dollars are spent wisely with greater accountability.

Cam Ward is the state representative for District 49, which makes up part of Shelby and Bibb Counties. Ward lives with his wife, Julie, and daughter, Riley, in Alabaster