Summary: The governor’s office and state finance director David Perry offered different budget documents as proof of Bentley’s claim. Neither document adds up to 217 eliminated line items, and neither document provides evidence that Bentley cut 185 earmarks from last year’s budget.
Analysis: After Bentley’s speech, The Star asked the governor’s staff for documentation of the 217 zeroed-out line items he referred to in his speech. Bentley spokeswomen Jennifer Ardis sent a link to the official website for the General Fund budget.
The budget proposal posted there is a six-page document that accounts for the $1.8 billion General Fund in about 300 broad budget items. Each line item in the budget receives funding from two sources –- the General Fund and earmarked funds.
Adding the General Fund and earmarked items together, the budget shows 221 items receiving zero funding in the proposed budget. Some items are completely zeroed out, receiving no funding from either source. Among the items under the budget knife are:
-- Citizenship Trust, which runs a historical site in Montevallo
-- The Men’s Hall of Fame, a male-only hall of fame for prominent Alabamians at Samford University, and the Women’s Hall of Fame, its female counterpart at Judson College
-- The Alabama Women’s Commission, a state board that reports on the status of women, including annual reports on the number of women appointed to political positions
-- An item marked "Estate of Robert E. Doyle," which refers to the state’s compensation payments to the family of a Montgomery man who was imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit
-- The Kidney Foundation
-- The Clerk of the Alabama House of Representatives.
While the cut-out line items add up to a total of 221, it’s important to note that 99 of the zeroed-out earmarks were also marked at zero in the 2011 budget.
Most of those earmarks were also absent from the 2010 budget. And some of these items appear to have never received any earmark funding at all.
For instance, the Alabama Supreme Court is listed in Bentley’s budget as receiving $0 in earmarked funds for 2012. But the Supreme Court is listed with $0 in earmarked funds in budgets going all the way back to 1997. It seems that the Supreme Court’s zero-dollar "earmark" exists only as a placeholder on a spreadsheet.
Even if those phantom earmarks were real, there aren’t 185 zeroed-out earmarks in the 2012 budget document –- there are only 103.
When The Star contacted Ardis for further explanation of the discrepancy, she directed questions to David Perry, the state’s director of finance.
Perry said The Star had been looking at the wrong document. The governor’s statement, he said, was actually based on a more detailed, itemized budget from the Legislative Fiscal Office. That document, he said, contained the 217 eliminated line items.
But it doesn’t. By The Star’s count, there are 202 eliminated line items in the document Perry suggested. And that document doesn’t cover earmarks at all.
Whether his numbers are wrong due to error or deception, the governor’s decision to tout the number of trimmed line items -– rather than the dollar amount of his budget cuts -– seems like an odd choice.
Or it does, at least, until you look at the bottom line of Bentley’s proposed budget. Bentley’s proposal sets the total General Fund spending at $1.82 billion in 2012.
That’s $143 million higher than the $1.67 billion in appropriations listed for 2011. This may come as a surprise in a year when all the political talk has been about the harsh cuts needed in the budget.
Perry said the increase in the total General Fund budget was due to the more than $302 million increase in the state’s share of the Medicaid burden in the coming year. Without that cost, he said, Bentley’s changes would amount to a cut. By Bama Fact Check's calculations, Bentley cut $158.6 million from the non-Medicaid portions of the General Fund budget.
But as currently proposed –- despite all its cuts –- the 2012 budget is still bigger than in 2011.
Tim Lockette can be reached at 256-235-3560