Proposed budget includes cut to state park funding

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

A bill passed by the Alabama House of Representatives and currently under consideration by the state Senate could have a negative effect on Alabama’s state parks, said Oak Mountain State Park Superintendent Michael Jeffreys.

House Bill 433, which was passed by the House on April 10 by a vote of 56-47, outlines appropriations from Alabama’s general fund, and determines the amount of funding allocated to each state agency.

Alabama’s state parks typically receive a portion of the revenue generated from the state’s cigarette tax, but the budget passed by the House calls for $2 million of the $3 million in cigarette tax revenue to be transferred to the state’s general fund.

Last year’s budget included a $5 million funding cut for state parks for the 2012 and 2013 fiscal years – money intended to be used to maintain state park buildings and equipment, Jeffreys said.

If the state Senate passes the general fund appropriations bill as it was approved by the state House, it could possibly mean a loss of jobs, the closure of facilities and a lack of money to maintain state parks, Jeffreys said.

“It would be a significant negative impact on our state parks,” Jeffreys said, noting the funding cut would cause parks to rely heavily on visitor day fees.

“We cannot absorb this loss of funding and maintain the same level of current operations,” read a statement posted April 20 on the OMSP Facebook.com site. “We hope that this transfer of funds will not be included in the final budget that is passed by the Senate.”

State Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin, R-Indian Springs, said she voted in favor of the appropriations bill, and said the cuts to the state park appropriations were necessary to balance the state’s general fund.

“I didn’t like cutting from the state parks. I didn’t like that at all,” McClurkin said. “But we have to balance the budget. The money has to come from somewhere.”

Shelby County state reps. April Weaver, R-Brierfield, Jim McClendon, R-Springville, Jim Carns, R-Birmingham and Kurt Wallace, R-Maplesville, voted in favor of the bill. State Rep. Mike Hill, R-Columbiana, voted against.

State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, said the senate could vote on the bill as early as May 2.

“I will be opposed to that. I think that would be terrible,” Ward said of the cut to the state park appropriations. “I realize that some state agencies are struggling, but the state parks are in the same boat.”