Alabama voters in a special statewide referendum Tuesday gave state officials authority to transfer funds from a trust referred to as the “state savings account” to avoid a deficit in the fiscal 2013 general fund budget.

The special election ballot said the transfer would “prevent the mass release of prisoners from Alabama prisons” and “protect critical health services to Alabama children, elderly, and mothers.”

According to published reports, nearly two-thirds of voters approved the constitutional amendment allowing $146 million a year for three years to be taken from the trust fund that collects royalties paid to the state by companies that pump natural gas offshore.

“I pledge to the people of this state that the funds transferred to help support critical state services will be paid back,” said Gov. Robert Bentley.

Bentley, who took office in January 2011, said his administration has already cut $675 million in expenses and increased efficiency, and that his ultimate goal is to identify $1 billion in savings by the end of his first term.

“We have also identified stronger sources of revenue for the general fund without raising taxes,” he said. “Through these combined measures, we will put our state in a stronger financial position for the future.”

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