published Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

Alabama GOP leaders claim $1.1 billion in savings

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Gov. Robert Bentley and other Republican leaders said Monday that they have saved Alabama taxpayers about $1.1 billion in total spending, cuts a Democratic leader said resulted in worse government services, lost jobs and unnecessary suffering.

Republican officeholders, who detailed the savings during a news conference at the Capitol, said they were able to achieve promised spending reductions and improved efficiency a year earlier than anticipated.

Bentley said state government was broke when Republicans took over in 2011 after generations of Democratic control, but their efforts to reduce costs and increase efficiency were paying off.

"Alabamians elected us to make state government more efficient and live within our means without raising taxes or cutting essential services," Bentley said in a statement.

The governor's office released a breakdown showing the largest share of claimed savings came from changing state pension rules. Workers are now required to pay a larger share of their salaries into retirement, saving the state about $345.6 million.

Changing Medicaid coverage for some prescriptions saved $200 million, and cutting more than 3,000 jobs from the government payroll saved another $160.7 million. Temporarily freezing merit raises for state workers saved taxpayers $139.7 million, leaders said.

Other savings included $118.8 million from changes to health insurance for state workers and teachers; $58.5 million from repealing legislation that rewarded some teachers and state workers for putting off retirement; $49.5 million from streamlining and realigning agencies; $28.8 million from renegotiating contracts; $20.4 million from refinancing bonds; and $15.3 million from changing the state's indigent defense system, which provides attorneys for poor people in criminal cases.

GOP House Speaker Mike Hubbard said Republicans had followed through on promises to make tough decisions just like those faced by households.

"I'm proud of our success to date, but we are continuing our efforts to streamline and right-size government without raising a single dime of taxes," said Hubbard, of Auburn.

House Minority Leader Craig Ford said he doubted the Republican savings really amounted to $1.1 billion, but he said there was no question that spending reductions had cost state workers and teachers their jobs, and resulted in delays in court procedures, larger classroom sizes; and fewer services from the Department of Human Resources.

"They think this is something to brag about, but I don't," said Ford, D-Gadsden.

Bentley said the reductions would prevent hundreds of millions of dollars in cutbacks to essential services by saving money in other areas.

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