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September 17, 2003   Email to Friend 

Debra Davis
(334) 613-4686
September 17, 2003

Proposed budget cuts introduced during the special legislative session that began Monday have come under fire from Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks. During a Tuesday hearing, Sparks said Gov. Bob Riley is trying to punish the farming industry because of its opposition to Amendment One.

The budget for the Department of Agriculture and Industries was cut by 32.85 percent, compared to most state agencies that were cut by 18 percent. But cuts to Agriculture Industries included $1.8 million in "pass through" spending, which the Riley administration called "pork." The agency's operating budget was cut by 18 percent, like most other agencies, said Riley's finance director Drayton Nabers.

Sparks said the governor's proposal is punitive and limits his ability to live up to his duties as an elected constitutional officer.

"This is the first time I've gotten up and spoken my mind and stood my ground for the Department of Agriculture. But it won't be the last," said Sparks who spoke at a public hearing at the state Capitol, Tuesday.

"I think (budget cuts) are retaliation because Alfa came out and opposed the governor's tax plan," Sparks told a Montgomery Advertiser reporter.

Federation Executive Director Mike Kilgore said funding cuts may be necessary, including some cuts to agriculture. However, he said he expects agriculture's portion of the cuts to be in line with the rest of the budget.

"The governor's budget proposal is just that -- a proposal," Kilgore said. "Passing a balanced budget ultimately is the responsibility of the Legislature. We expect the members of the Legislature to carefully review the governor's proposal and make changes where necessary. However, it is disturbing to see that Gov. Riley, who campaigned as a friend to farmers, has drastically reduced agricultural appropriations. We challenge the Legislature to act in the best interest of all Alabamians, including our farmers, to pass a fair and equitable budget."

Kilgore said some groups who favored the governor's tax package, already have announced plans to introduce legislation aimed at the insurance industry.

Rep. Mac Gipson, R-Prattville, said he plans to introduce a bill to remove a partial tax exemption that favors Alabama insurance companies. Gipson said the bill, which was part of the Riley package, is not a tax increase. It would produce $5.2 million annually.

"There also have been rumors that some legislators will try to remove sales tax exemptions that farmers receive on input items," Kilgore said. "We will continue to monitor the budget and any other bills that are introduced during the session to protect the interest of our members and Alfa Insurance Co."

However, for any bill to be passed in the special session that is not listed on the governor's call, it would require a two-thirds vote to pass.

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