Editorial: By the numbers — Bentley’s $1 billion in savings doesn’t help many of the state’s ills
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Dec 23, 2013 | 2300 views |  0 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Gov. Robert Bentley (AP photo)
Gov. Robert Bentley (AP photo)
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Gov. Robert Bentley may be a doctor, but he’s also a numbers man.

By his estimates, the governor has teamed with Republican lawmakers to find Alabama more than $1 billion in savings. He had a stated goal, and he reached it. Give the man a cigar.

The governor’s website listed the fiscal-austerity gems: among them, more than $345 million in pension reform measures; more than $160 million in workforce reductions (right-sizing, in Bentley-speak); and more than $118 million in state employee insurance premium increases.

Lots of numbers, all in the millions, adding up to brighter days and smarter government, the governor claims.

“They wanted us to be good stewards of the money they sent to Montgomery, they wanted a government that lives within its means, and they wanted us to increase efficiency so that government is using the best use of the resources we have,” he said at a Monday press conference in Montgomery. Lawmakers had “delivered on our goal of being good stewards of their hard-earned money.”

Good stewards is one thing. Good governance is another.

Bentley’s “Race to $1 Billion” doesn’t overshadow a few other pertinent numbers the Tuscaloosa Republican failed to mention Monday.

There are almost 5,000 fewer state employees today than there were when Bentley took office in January 2011, according to the Montgomery Advertiser. Numerous state departments are feeling the governor’s pinch.

The state’s court system is woefully understaffed and no longer operates on a normal 9-to-5, five-days-a-week schedule.

The Alabama Department of Corrections — which operates one of the United States’ most overcrowded prison systems — has 14 percent fewer correctional officers on staff than it had in 2006, the Advertiser reported.

State crime labs have been shuttered or consolidated into a fewer number of offices in fewer cities.

Facilities in the Alabama Department of Mental Health have been closed as the state moves to a community-based model — in other words, moving some of the responsibility (and cost) away from the state.

Reductions such as these that Bentley so proudly touts hurt all Alabamians, not only the ones who may have lost their state paychecks.

In truth, Bentley’s cost-savings campaign is a damn-the-results effort of GOP ideology that masks some of the state’s most severe problems.

Despite Republicans’ oft-repeated mantra that state government should be operated like a business, that’s simply not the case. Some services and departments — prisons and courts, for instance — aren’t liberal democratic luxuries. They’re musts. Operating them on the cheap comes at a price felt at street level.

Instead of a fair mixture of cuts and increases in spending that move the state forward, Alabama Republicans continue to tout a plan that’s all about numbers but not about improving the lives of those who call this beautiful state home.
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