Time Crunch for State Budget, NASA Robotics Mining Competition

May 18, 2015

Alabama engineering student Kellen Schroeter adjust his team's mining robot.

With only eight days left in the current legislative session, state lawmakers are running short on both time and options to patch a $200 million hole in the General Fund Budget.

The Alabama House of Representatives is set to vote tomorrow on a budget draft totaling $1.6 billion for next year. That would cut around 200 million dollars from funding for a wide variety of state agencies. House Speaker Mike Hubbard says his aim is to get that budget onto the Senate floor, and then work with Senators on a possible solution to avoid those cuts.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley has been extremely critical of the budget proposed, saying the cuts will hurt many Alabamians and that legislators need to find a new source for state revenue. He has promised to veto any budget bill that includes such dramatic cuts, and says he will bring legislators back for special session this summer, if necessary.

Engineering students from Alabama are helping NASA design ways to dig for minerals on other planets.

The agency’s Robotics Mining Competition begins this morning at the Kennedy Space Center. Students from the University of Alabama and Shelton State Community College have built a robot digger for the competition.

Dr. Kenneth Ricks is an associate professor in UA's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He says this competition puts his team up against some of the best programs around.

“This is an opportunity to really step up and show that our college of engineering at the University of Alabama and our programs are just as good or better than, and match up very well with, any other programs in the country.”

There are 50 to 60 teams competing in the competition from all across the country. Each team’s robot is allowed two competition runs of 10 minutes each to collect as much rock and soil as possible and then deposit that material in a container for processing.

Alabama lawmakers may soon consider a bill removing the state Board of Education from the process of confirming a commission to oversee new Alabama charter schools.

Representative Terri Collins filed the bill late last week, after several members of the Board of Education chose not to confirm a number of nominees for the charter commission.

Those nominees are presented by the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Senate President Pro Tem and the Speaker of the House.

Representative Collins says this bill is necessary to make sure the new charter commission is in place by a June 1 deadline.

Members of the Board of Education say they're fine with not being involved in the process, but that they've felt under attack from a number of fronts this legislative session. One bill that passed earlier this month removed Alabama’s community college system from the Board of Education’s control.