Alabama, which has historically operated with miserly budgets, passed into dark-cloud territory in 2011. A sputtering economy the likes of which have not been seen in 80 years, an upside-down tax code and a conservative sweep of Montgomery’s power positions combined for an awful effect. Budget cuts that were always below the skin have now started scraping bone. Courthouses scaled back hours of operation. Permitting and regulating agencies suffered staff reductions. Labs designed to investigate criminal evidence were shuttered.
On this last point, The Star’s Cameron Steele reported last week on how the closing of a state forensics lab in Anniston has slowed down police work. The clinical examination of drug evidence that once took weeks to process is now measured in months. The impact is one of
two options. Either the prosecution of drug offenders has been slowed because of Alabama’s
bargain-basement, crime-fighting budget. Or the unfairly accused are waiting longer to have their good name cleared. Neither option is preferred.
“Completely inefficient” is how one local law enforcer described the new arrangement. Once, departments carried evidence to the Department of Forensic Sciences’ satellite office at McClellan, a relatively quick trip for local agencies. Now officers must deliver the evidence to a lab in Hoover, a trip that can eat up almost half of an officer’s eight-hour shift. That’s one less officer on the streets protecting the public.
It’s also no way for a state to go about two of its most basic functions, criminal justice and public safety. We didn’t have to go down this path. Raising revenue to take bad guys off the street is hardly a non-starter with voters. Yet, Montgomery’s Republican majority couldn’t work up the courage to disturb Alabama’s most comfortable who enjoy a tax system where the lower-income residents pay a larger share of their money than wealthy ones.
Gov. Robert Bentley and the members of the Legislature own any bad results that may come from this crime-fighting on the cheap. We should all pray that the worst doesn’t happen.
Until the budget process is put in a more sane position, however, justice delayed will be the Alabama way.