Medicaid funding shortfall could prompt more state cuts

Posted by: Melissa McKinney - bio | email

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - "There's no question...there's going to be some tough decisions that we have to make," says House General Fund Committee Chairman, John Knight.

State lawmakers are staring at a $60 million dollar shortfall in next year's budget.

"We have been planning all along for whatever could possibly happen," says Knight.

The federal government is using stimulus money to extend Medicaid funds to Alabama and other states in 2011.

Lawmakers expected that all along, but thought they'd be getting more money.

"$130 million will be available. We had budgeted $197 million," adds Knight.

He says since the state won't get the nearly $200-million they'd planned for, "I do think it's important enough that representatives of the legislature as well as executive branch should meet to discuss where we're headed."

"It's going to be rough," says Cynthia Sankey.

She's no stranger to budget cuts. Sankey's a teacher, and knows what shortages are like.

"We're going to have to find someway to cut it," she says.

Knight admits he doesn't know what cuts can be made yet if any at all.  But it's hard knowing these decisions directly affect Alabamians.

"I couldn't sleep at night if we cut the budget and we lost one single person in the state because we couldn't provide the services to them," adds Knight.

That's why he says public safety agencies - like state troopers - are the last on the chopping block.

The legislature has warned agencies about possible cuts asking them to curb spending and freeze hiring.

Montgomerian David Peacock is ok with slashing the budget with one condition.

"I would hate to see it happen, but if it's that or raise taxes, you have to make the cuts."

Knight doesn't believe the Governor will call a special session to address the budget shortfall.

A spokesman for the Governor's office praised the fact that there is now only a $60 million dollar gap instead $200 million dollars.

He says there are a number of options to make up the money.

Those could include dipping into the Rainy Day fund or making adjustments to Medicaid and other agencies.

Knight believes the two gubernatorial candidates should be involved in the budget discussions since he believes the next Governor will have to make some extremely difficult financial decisions.

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