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After dispute, Ivey sends lawmakers proposal for $1.8B in coronavirus spending

By MARY SELL and TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A week after a public dispute between Gov. Kay Ivey and members of the Legislature about who should control about $1.8 billion in federal coronavirus relief money, the governor on Thursday sent lawmakers a detailed proposal for allocating most of it.

The proposed expenditures include money for state agencies’ COVID-19 expenses, businesses, non-profits and faith-based groups and technology and infrastructure expenses.

“I have known many in the Legislature for a long time and have built many lasting, true friendships,” Ivey said in a written statement. “Like any working relationship, you will have occasional disagreements. Tension can be a good thing if you allow it to birth good ideas; we must not allow ego or personal agendas to outweigh the public good. My firm opinion remains that most members of the Legislature want to do the right thing while making certain this money helps the people of Alabama who have been harmed by this disease.”

The announcement came after discussions with Republican House leadership, who earlier this week went to the governor with a plan.

“The governor, and the Legislature, too, has been trying to put Humpty Dumpty back together again,” Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, told Alabama Daily News. He’s chairman of the House General Fund budget committee.

The Legislature meets for its final day of the Regular Session on Monday and some had been preparing for an Ivey veto of  supplemental budget legislation directing federal coronavirus relief funds. The Legislature sent Ivey a bill allowing her and state agencies to spend $200 million of the about $1.8 billion from Congress, while leaving the Legislature discretion over the rest.

Clouse said he’ll move Monday to accept Ivey’s amendment, saying her office did a good job of identifying COVID-related losses in the state.

Because the General Fund budget and related bills started in the Senate this year, Ivey’s amendment will go there first. It was senators who first said last month they wanted a voice in how the relief money would be spent.

Ivey in a public statement last week outed the Legislature for having a “wish list” for expenses unrelated to the pandemic that included a new State House. She ceded control of the money to them, but said she wanted a detailed accounting “to the penny” of how it’d be spent.

“It is extremely disappointing that no one in Senate leadership was included in this discussion of how to spend nearly $2 billion of CARES ACT funding,” Will Califf, a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said Thursday evening. “We will have to review this with the entire Senate Republican caucus before a final decision can be made as to whether or not the Senate will vote to concur with the executive amendment.”

Leah Garner, Ivey’s communication director, said it was House leadership that reached out to the Governor on Tuesday to discuss a path forward with specific recommendations.

“Had a member of the Senate reached out for that purpose, she would have been happy to meet with them as well,” Garner said.

Senate General Fund budget committee Chairman Greg Albritton, R-Range, said Thursday evening he hadn’t studied the proposal from Ivey — earlier in the day he told Alabama Daily News he hadn’t had any communication with the governor’s office — but that he was “favorable” to what he’d seen so far.

“It appears we may have battled to a solution,” Albritton said. He said the Legislature’s role in appropriating funds is recognized in the amendment.

According to the Governor’s Office, Ivey’s amendment would split up more than $1.7 billion of CARES Act funding as follows:

  • $300 million to reimburse state agencies for expenses directly related to the coronavirus outbreak;
  • $250 million to deliver health care and related services to residents;
  • $250 million to reimburse counties and cities for coronavirus expenses;
  • $300 million to support businesses, non-profits, faith-based groups and individuals impacted by the outbreak;
  • $300 million for technology and infrastructure expenses related to remote learning;
  • $200 million for reimbursement of costs to the Department of Corrections incurred because of the outbreak;
  • $53 million for remote work and public access expenses incurred by state government, including the Legislature;
  • $10 million to reimburse court additional court costs incurred during the outbreak;
  • $5 million to reimburse the state’s General Fund for supplemental appropriations made to the Department of Public Health;
  • And up to $118,346,250 to be used miscellaneously “for any lawful purpose” with passage by the Alabama Legislature;

These funds would only be spent on necessary and appropriate expenditures, with any unspent money going back to the U.S. Treasury. Under the CARES Act, any funds left unspent by December 30 or deemed to be spent on unrelated expenditures must be paid back to the federal government.

About $45 million to $50 million of the federal money has already been spent on medical equipment and supplies, including ventilators, N95 masks, gloves, face shields, decontamination kits and hand sanitizer, Garner said.

Clouse and Albritton had both expressed concerns about federal regulations on spending the money and a tight timeline. The money has to be spent by the end of the year. Ivey’s executive amendment would allow the money to flow more quickly to groups that need it, rather than lawmakers allocating it later in a special session.

“But it’s still a big if right now, as far as the restrictions,” Clouse said.

If major changes were needed to the allocations later, language in the executive order says Legislative leadership must be consulted.

Meanwhile, Albritton said state leaders have been talking with their counterparts in Washington about that Dec. 30 spending deadline and a possible extension. Albritton said he’s talked with the Alabama Department of Public Health about a multi-year proposal to track the virus in the future.

“It’s a great program, but these funds couldn’t be used for that,” Albritton said.

Congressman Mike Rogers, R-Saks, this week told Alabama Daily News it was unlikely that Congress would change the rules for the CARES Act to cover expenses like expanding rural broadband internet, as Marsh wants to do, but that there is bipartisan talk of additional legislation to allow other expenses.

“For things like broadband, it’s going to take another bill,” Rogers said. “Having said that, there has been a lot of talk on our conference calls about getting some relief for broadband. That’s one of the things we could really get done and it would be bi-partisan.”

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