Budgets to be hot topic for legislature

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 25, 2005

State Rep. Cam Ward, Republican of Alabaster, is not in favor of raising taxes to cover possible shortfalls in the state’s general fund budget.

Instead Ward is in favor of reforming Medicaid.

Ward made the comment regarding the General Fund budget when he was recently asked to reflect on what’s coming up in the next legislative session set to begin on Tuesday, Feb. 1.

According to Ward, the focus of the upcoming session will be much like the previous session with the state budgets consuming most of the debate.

He explained that Alabama has two operating budgets, one for education and one for all other state services.

Ward said during the last two years, both budgets have experienced little or no growth. However, he said, expenses for education and Medicaid have continued to rise and these budgets have not kept up.

This year however, according to Ward, the Education Trust Fund, funded mainly by sales and income taxes, has grown at a healthy 5-9 percent.

In contrast, the General Fund budget, has grown a meager 2 percent.

Ward also said with Medicaid growing at such a rapid pace, it is unlikely that the General Fund will have enough money to cover increases in health-related costs.

While Ward said this problem is not unique to Alabama with 47 other states around the country also facing severe cost increases in Medicaid, he said he is not ready to increase the tax burden on Alabamians.

Ward said some legislators have proposed various tax increases to help solve this shortfall.

&uot;In my opinion, a tax increase is misguided and totally out of the question,&uot; he said.

&uot;The solution to our Medicaid crisis cannot depend on overburdening the taxpayers of Alabama. The answer to the problem is to reform Medicaid to make it more affordable for our state to offer.

&uot;Such reforms include the number of prescription drug offerings under the program as well as looking at the number of non-emergency visits covered by Medicaid.&uot;

Medicaid costs will continue to rise, Ward said.

&uot;Medicaid is going to continue getting more and more expensive. It is a government program that we cannot continue to increase funding for at this rate. The system must be reformed.&uot;

Ward said in the Education Trust Fund, there will be a discussion of payraises for schoolteachers.

He said the debate will center more on how much of a payraise as opposed to whether the teachers will get one at all.

He said the governor has not release his budget proposal at this time so there is no indication as to what kind of payraise he will support.

Ward said the current proposal on the table calls for a 7 percent pay hike for teachers.

Ward noted other issues are sure to come up during the session as well.

Ward said one bill that is sure to be divisive is the Same Sex-Marriage Bill. He explained this legislation would outlaw gay marriages in Alabama.

While most Republicans support the bill, Ward said, some Democrats have promised a filibuster to prevent the issue from coming up.

He said this debate is sure to burn a couple of legislative days in the session.

&uot;I believe that conservatives will stand firm on this issue and pass the ban in this session.

I do not think we can back down on this issue,&uot; he said.

Ward also noted that he will be pushing an agenda that includes a transportation commission to ensure that roads in this area get more funding and vicious dog legislation to punish owners who are negligent in keeping their dogs from attacking other people.

And he said he will sponsor a sales tax holiday for Alabama similar to other states in the southeast