Key senator talks employee buyouts, law enforcement consolidation, paying back trust fund

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Lead Senate Republican Del Marsh said on Wednesday that priorities for the upcoming legislative session include moving forward with buyouts for state employees, consolidating nearly three dozen law enforcement agencies, and passing a plan to pay back the money borrowed through the Sept. 18 referendum. He said they are also considering overhauling the organization of staff and support services for lawmakers at the State House.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston

Marsh, president pro tem of the Senate, addressed members of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama at the Renaissance Hotel on Wednesday. He told county commissioners government consolidation and efficiency measures would be a priority in the session that begins in February.

“We believe there are cost savings to be found there, we believe there are efficiencies to be found there,” said the Republican from Anniston.

Marsh said proposals to offer buyouts to certain state employees would also move forward. Gov. Robert Bentley unveiled a plan in October that would offer certain state employees cash payments or continued health insurance coverage if they agreed to voluntary retirement.

“I think you’re going to see at the end of the day, there will probably be less people in state government,” Marsh said after his speech. “That will happen. But it will happen through a process. We’re not going in there and firing people.”

In the public safety consolidation, Marsh envisioned a central director restructuring the different law enforcement and investigative agencies, with agencies possibly sharing investigators. The senator estimated the moves could save up to $30 million a year, but acknowledged it could be difficult.

“That’s one of the trickiest ones to handle, which is why we chose to take it on,” he said. “We thought that if we can do this, we can tackle anything in state government.”

Marsh said the Senate would prioritize paying back money borrowed from the Alabama Trust Fund to shore up the state’s troubled General Fund. On Sept. 18, voters approved a constitutional amendment transferring about $145 million a year over the next three years into the General Fund. The senator said he has directed four Republican senators who have come up with proposals to come up with a single approach.

Marsh said he did not know what changes to legislative services would ultimately look like, although he suggested it could involve the clerk of the House, secretary of Senate, Legislative Fiscal Office and Legislative Reference Service coming under a single administrative umbrella. The agencies could possibly share a director or accounting services.

The Legislature will also look at consolidation of IT resources among state agencies, which he estimated could save up to $80 million a year. However, Marsh said the state does not have exact figures available.

– Brian Lyman

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