On Sept. 18, polls will open so Alabamians can vote on a constitutional amendment that would move $437 million from a state trust fund to the General Fund, which has hemorrhaged money in recent years.
Earlier this year, the Legislature passed state budgets that, in reality, weren’t balanced. Lawmakers — including Gov. Robert Bentley — are banking that the few voters who turn out Sept. 18 will give a thumbs-up to the money-switch that will prop up the General Fund and save the already-passed (and already-flawed) budgets.
That’s maddening enough, a budget passed on a hope and a prayer.
But someone in Montgomery decided the phrase “to prevent the mass release of prisoners from Alabama prisons” should be included on the ballot. Problem is, as a story in Sunday’s Star explained, there is nothing in the proposed amendment that calls for a mass release of prisoners. Nothing.
Likewise, several legislators told The Star’s Tim Lockette that they were unsure of how the phrase “mass release of prisoners” made it into the wording of the ballot. One of those legislators was Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, who handled the bill in the state House.
In fact, other lawmakers, Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, and Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne, discount the notion that prison guards will unlock the front gates of state penitentiaries if voters shoot down the money transfer. Each of them say some other resolution to the state’s General Fund problem would be found.
So, to recap this quintessential Alabama Legislature story, lawmakers passed a budget that only works if voters approve moving $437 million; wording on the ballot about a “mass release of prisoners” isn’t supported by the amendment itself; and, apparently, no one’s quite sure how that wording made it onto the ballot in the first place.
Ultimately, it’s the people of Alabama who suffer when boneheaded decisions ooze out of Montgomery. And count this idea — passing a budget based on a future vote — as one of the Legislature’s more boneheaded ideas. This is Montgomery leadership: playing shell games with state money and hoping voters rescue lawmakers from their unwillingness to consider real solutions.