Governor Pledges Bold Action on the Budget at PARCA Annual Meeting


Speaking before a sell-out crowd of more than 400 at the Harbert Center on Friday, Feb. 13, Gov. Robert Bentley said he will propose bold solutions in the face of a steep budget shortfall.

In his luncheon address, Bentley said that during his first term he had held the line on spending, shrunk the state workforce, and encouraged efficiency and reform. While efforts along those lines will continue in his second term, Bentley has concluded that additional tax revenue is needed for the state to balance its budgets. The state faces a shortfall in the general fund budget of more than $250 million. The state’s spending on education is still below its pre-recession levels.

Bentley’s remarks followed a morning of presentations on major areas of state spending: Corrections, Medicaid, and education. In each of those areas, leaders have examined the current situation, set goals for improvement, and devised strategies to pursue those goals.

In all three cases, investments in reforms should avert higher costs in the future and produce better outcomes for citizens.  PARCA Executive Director Jim Williams said the careful analysis and goal-oriented thinking in these departments should be an inspiration to the rest of state government. It points toward a better approach to management and budgeting, which is vitally important in a state that collects less tax revenue per capita than any other.

The morning featured the following presentations:

State Sen. Cam Ward and Alabama Sentencing Commission Executive Director Bennet Wright spoke on solutions to the state’s prison overcrowding problem. Wright outlined proposed changes to sentencing, prisons, and community supervision.

Alabama State Health Officer Don Williamson explained plans to move more beneficiaries of the Alabama Medicaid System away from fee-for-service system into managed care.

Care Network of East Alabama Executive Director Kim Eason and Chronic Care Coordinator Julie Wells explained how a pilot version of Medicaid’s new approach is working to improve patient outcomes and decrease use of costly hospital care.

And finally, Alabama State Superintendent of Schools Tommy Bice presented an update on the progress of Plan 2020. The high school graduation rate is climbing, but schools have serious challenges ahead in closing the achievement gap between low income students and their middle class peers and in making sure high school graduates are ready for college and career.  Some of those challenges are illustrated in graphics from Jim Williams’ presentation, on Producing College and Career Ready Graduates.

PARCA Poll of Public Attitudes on Taxes, Education, Corrections and Medicaid

According to a new poll of public opinion commissioned by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, state residents would be willing to pay more in taxes to avoid budget cuts in key areas like education, health care, and public safety. However, the public remains distrustful of government’s ability to spend tax dollars wisely.

The results serve as a backdrop to PARCA’s annual meeting, Feb. 13 at the Harbert Center in Birmingham. The meeting will focus on initiatives by leaders in those key areas to improve public trust through goal-oriented planning, targeted investment, and the transparent tracking and reporting of results.  The poll results are also relevant to lawmakers as they consider how to close a budget shortfall and improve budgeting practices.

The survey of almost 600 Alabamians was conducted between January 5 and January 21. Each year, The Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama commissions a survey of public opinion to gauge Alabamian’s attitudes toward government and the issues facing the state. Randolph Horn, Samford University Professor of Political Science and Samford’s Director of Strategic and Applied Analysis, collaborated with PARCA on the design of the survey and directed the polling operation. The results were weighted to reflect the demographic makeup of the state. Text of the questions and results of the survey can be accessed here. You can find the survey results presented graphically here.

The PARCA poll found strong support for increased spending on a variety of educational priorities. It also found public support for more investment in rehabilitation of prisoners in the interest of cutting down on criminal recidivism. Also, a majority of those polled said they support expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income individuals, including childless adults.

One of the most striking things about poll results is that, on a host of issues, there is broadly-based public consensus, a set of shared opinions that  cut across demographic and partisan lines. The one exception to that in this year’s poll, Medicaid expansion, is discussed below.

The poll results contrast with the perception that voters are deeply divided along ideological lines. This year’s results are similar to the findings of PARCA polls in previous years, which have consistently found widely shared priorities.

This year’s poll finds that among the four top areas of state expenditure — education, health care, public safety and highways —  Alabamians rank education spending are the state’s most important area of investment. Health care comes in second. Public safety comes in third, with highways ranked fourth.



A strong majority of respondents said they’d be willing to pay more in taxes to avoid cuts in public education (63 percent) and health care (57 percent). A majority said they would be willing to pay more in taxes to avoid cuts in public safety.



Focusing on education, the poll found that 79 percent of Alabamians believe that the level of funding in schools does make a difference in the quality of education provided. And 67 percent believe that too little is being spent on public education in Alabama. However, 63 percent of those polled said they thought that the money that currently goes to education is not being spent properly. Some of that sentiment may reflect Alabamian’s general distrust of government. However, in past PARCA surveys, further questioning on this subject revealed that some of that perception of improper spending stems from factors linked to inadequate spending. For instance, respondents pointed to old and tattered textbooks or parents having to pay for classroom supplies as evidence that money in education was not being properly spent. Strong majorities of those polled believed that more money should be spent in schools in a variety of categories and that the state should play a role in equalizing funding for school systems that lack resources.



Turning to corrections, the poll indicates the public believes we should be doing a better job of rehabilitating prisoners than we are currently doing. As the state grapples with a prison overcrowding problem, public support for increased investment in rehabilitation and treatment is stronger than support for simply building more prison space.


On Medicaid, there was almost universal agreement (95 percent of those polled) that the state should provide a medical safety net for low-income children, pregnant mothers, and seniors. A majority of those polled said they supported expanding Medicaid by taking advantage of federal incentives to help pay for the extension of health coverage to low-income adults, who are currently not covered.


However, it should be noted that this was the one question in the survey that produced a division along party lines.   Nearly 76 percent of those identifying themselves as Democrats favored expansion, and expansion was supported by 53 percent of those who classified themselves as either independents or as having no partisan affiliation.  However, among Republicans, 54 percent supported keeping Alabama Medicaid as it currently is, rather than expanding it.


PARCA Winter Quarterly Tackles Budgeting, Corrections, Medicaid, and Education

The PARCA Quarterly Winter 2015 edition provides perspective on Alabama’s budget challenges and reform efforts in education, Medicaid, and the state prison system.

The Quarterly provides background for our upcoming annual meeting, which is February 13 at the Harbert Center in downtown Birmingham.

The meeting will feature:

       State Sen. Cam Ward and Alabama Sentencing Commission Executive Director Bennet Wright presenting proposals under consideration by the Prison Reform Task Force.

       State Health Officer Donald Williamson and Kim Eason and Julie Wells of the Patient Care Network of East Alabama discussing changing approaches in the Medicaid program.

       State Superintendent of Schools Tommy Bice providing an update on the progress of Plan 2020.

       Gov. Robert Bentley delivering the luncheon address.


Friday, February 6 is the deadline for registration. Until then, you can get more details and register online.