Doing more with less during recession

Published 10:39 pm Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A recent U.S. Census report showed again that Alabama has the lowest taxes in the nation, something that has been a fact for quite some time.

State government collects the least amount per citizen than any other state. That’s something that the voters have wanted, and the Legislature has made sure happened.

Having the lowest taxes means our state government does a better job getting the most out of every taxpayer dollar than any other state in the nation. When you have less yet still need to provide the same basic services, such as public safety and education, that other states do, you must look for effective ways of stretching every penny.

However, these troubled economic times have further reduced state revenue, and we now have to redouble our efforts to do more with less. The figures are daunting to say the least.

The Legislative Fiscal Office estimates that state coffers will have about 7 percent less funding available for education. We have already declared proration this year, coming on top of last year’s proration of 11 percent.

We will spend $1.4 billion less this year on public schools and colleges than we did just two years ago.

We have worked hard to keep teachers in the classroom, but everything from buses to textbooks have been slashed and eliminated. While test scores and graduation rates have remained steady or shown improvement, there is concern that the massive gains we made during this decade will be in jeopardy if we can’t restore much of the funding lost during the recession.

Schools are doing with less and making it work, which is a testament to their dedication and effectiveness.

Things are no better for other agencies and programs. There is concern that revenue for the General Fund, the earmarked revenue that funds everything from public health to public safety, could drop more than $500 million for next year. Finding a way to fill a half-billion dollar hole is about as tough as finding a needle in a haystack.

It is against this backdrop of shortages and cuts that some amazing stories of progress have surfaced. Again, it is a testament to the dedication and effectiveness of our state workers that there is any good news at all.

Alabama state troopers recently announced that road fatalities are down for the third year in a row. The Alabama Department of Public Safety figures show that on the highways they patrol, the fatality rate has plummeted by 35 percent over those three years. It is down from 802 fatalities in 2006 to 514 this year.

Such a drop in highway deaths is twice the national average, and one of the best in the nation.

Yet, the troopers did this not with an infusion of funding but by working smarter and concentrating on getting more officers on the road.

Public Safety commanders were encouraged to come up with plans to target areas that had high fatality rates and move away from parts of the highways that yielded more tickets and netted more speeders. Sometimes, this meant working more on state highways and less on the interstates. Saving lives was paramount.

The success of Public Safety is just one story of many how state agencies are doing more with less. Let us hope the economy turns around soon so the funding that has been lost can be restored, but state agencies have proven they know how to stretch those dollars effectively.