Budgets cut, changes made

By SLADE BLACKWELL / Guest columnist

The 2012 Legislative Session and the special session on redistricting are now complete. We had to make some extremely difficult decisions, but I am proud of what the legislature was able to accomplish this session. Some of the tough issues we had to tackle included:

-Budgets:  Budget shortfalls are always a challenge, and this year was exceptionally worse than we have faced in a long time in Alabama.

The Senate and House both approved a $5.4 billion education budget. However, this is down about $200 million from the state’s current education budget, which will mean a 3 percent spending cut at all levels.

The General Fund budget was also approved by the House and Senate and is set at $1.7 billion. This is down almost $67 million from current spending levels. While the plan has passed in the legislature, it is now up to the people of Alabama to vote for a constitutional amendment in September to redirect $146 million from the Alabama Trust Fund into the General Fund over the next 3 years. If this does not pass in September, a special session is very likely before the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.

-Pro-Business Bills:  The legislature went into the 2012 session with a strong emphasis on passing pro-business bills and I am pleased with the progress we made with pro-business legislation.

One that I am especially proud of is SB459, which I sponsored. This bill will alleviate much of the red tape for businesses filing taxes by allowing them to file taxes in one place and at one time, as opposed to filing up to 67 different tax returns.

-Redistricting:  After the final day of the regular legislative session on May 16, Gov. Robert Bentley immediately declared a special session on redistricting. The redistricting of Senate and House districts must be done every 10 years in order to keep up with the most current census data.

My district, Senate District 15, will change some but not drastically. Unfortunately, I will lose some of the cities that I have had the pleasure of serving for the past two years, including Columbiana and Harpersville. However, I look forward to serving the cities and towns that I will now represent throughout Shelby County.

The legislative session may be over, but my work as a senator is not. Throughout the summer, I plan to hold community town hall meetings throughout District 15 to further update you on the past session and to get your thoughts on how we can improve Shelby County moving forward. I encourage everyone to attend these events so I can hear from you.

Slade Blackwell is serving his first term in the Alabama State Senate representing Jefferson and Shelby Counties in District 15. For more information about Slade, please visit Sladeblackwell.com.