Limestone County voters narrowly defeated Tuesday’s referendum to transfer $473 million from a state trust fund to the General Fund.
Only 17 percent (8,186) of the county’s 47,699 voters cast a ballot in 25 precincts, echoing a statewide trend. In all, 3,593 (43.89 percent) voted yes to the measure, while 4,593 (56.11 percent) voted no.
Provisional ballots will be counted next Tuesday at noon, and the results will be certified.
Statewide, however, totals were trending differently as of press time. With 73 percent of precincts reporting statewide, the proposed constitutional amendment was passing 65 percent to 35 percent .
The Legislature left it up to voters to decide whether to use money from the Alabama Trust Fund or face cuts of 12 percent or more for the $1.7 billion General Fund budget that takes effect Oct. 1. The proposed constitutional amendment would take the money from a trust fund that receives the state's royalties from natural gas wells drilled off the Alabama coast.
Alabamians against the measure expressed frustration over the last several days that the Legislature left the fate of the General Fund up to voters instead of balancing the budget before session’s end.
Ronnie Coffman, chairman of the Limestone County Republican Executive Committee, said most everyone he talked to prior to the election told him they were voting against it.
“I know Alabama is strapped for money, and I don’t think there’s enough to take care of everything,” he said. “My belief is, they didn’t want to raise taxes, and this was the only way they could get enough (to cover the General Fund shortfall).”
A call placed Tuesday with Limestone County Democratic Party chairman Ron Gatlin was not immediately returned.
Rep. Dan Williams, R-Athens, said he wasn’t surprised that Limestone County voters defeated the referendum, but was surprised it wasn’t a landslide against the measure.
He said even if the referendum was a failure, he didn’t anticipate an immediate special session. He said Gov. Robert Bentley and state administrators have the power to order across-the-board cuts to agencies, but he added it would have been interesting to see the governor’s back-up plan.
“This will give the Legislature some breathing room, but we can’t take three years (to fix the budget),” he said. “We can’t cut out everything else to try to prop up what we’ve got. We’ve got to live with the money we’ve got coming into the General Fund.”
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