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As budgets move, conflict brews over what’s in $2.8B supplemental

The state’s record budgets and rare supplemental spending bills are now halfway through the legislative process, having passed their chamber of origin. Now, lawmakers, lobbyists and locals are rallying for projects to be put in — or put back in — the proposals as they move ahead.

This potential funding feud is particularly noticeable in the eye-popping $2.8 billion education supplemental. The proposal from Gov. Kay Ivey in March included several expenditures not related to classrooms and colleges. Several of those were removed in the Senate-passed version of the bill, including two in the Mobile area. Now, some from south Alabama want them back.

“My job is to look out for the south half of the state,” Senate General Fund budget committee chair Greg Albritton told Alabama Daily News. “And I am one of the very, very few in leadership in the Legislature from south Alabama, and I take that as a whole. So yeah, it is my job to figure out how to make this work.”

Albritton’s talking mainly about $25 million for the Port of Alabama in Mobile for upgrades to coal moving equipment and $31 million for the Mobile Airport Authority for construction of a new downtown airport. That state funding would help capture larger federal funding, officials said.

But education budget leaders in the State House early on said line items that weren’t related to classrooms would get extra scrutiny and could be cut.

“We continue in the Education Trust Fund to focus on education-related projects,” House education budget chairman Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, told Alabama Daily News on Friday.

The Senate unanimously passed the proposal  that also deleted $25 million for a water park project near Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery and $200 million for downtowns in rural parts of the state.

“I feel like we were even-handed by saying if it’s not education or work force training-related, it’s coming out,” Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said about the supplemental bill. Orr chairs the Senate education budget committee and has said this year’s budget process was the most complicated of his three terms as a budget leader.

The argument that ETF dollars shouldn’t be spent on non-education projects is thin, Albritton said.

“We breached that wall a long time ago,” said Albritton, pointing to regular ETF spending for things he said aren’t directly related to learning. Meanwhile, the expanded economic incentives the state offers new and expanding business come from the ETF.

The $8.8 billion 2024 education budget and nearly $2.8 billion supplemental are now in the House and are expected to be in committee next week.

“Oh, we’re going to talk about it,” House Speaker Pro Tem Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, told ADN early last week. “It’s not even close to being equitable.”

Last week, Pringle and other lawmakers from south Alabama were given a spreadsheet compiled by lobbyist and attorney Beth Lyons. Lyons said she’s not a fiscal analyst, but her breakdown of how the money flowed showed inequities. She divided the state by north and south — everything below Montgomery being south.

“It’s highly favorable to the northern part of the state,” Lyons said about the education supplemental.

Lyons represents the city of Mobile, the Mobile County Commission and the local airport authority.

ETF supplemental allocations per county, based on entities’ physical locations

  • Jefferson: $105.2M
  • Tuscaloosa: $85.37M
  • Madison: $81.25M
  • Mobile: $69.87M 
  • Lee: $66.17M
  • Limestone: $50.25M 
  • Montgomery: $39.6M
  • Pike: $33.54M
  • Lauderdale: $30.17M
  • Houston: $30M
  • Talladega: $26M
  • Etowah: $20.5M
  • Colbert: $20M
  • Walker: $19.1M
  • Calhoun: $18.57M
  • Shelby: $17.54M
  • Cullman: $15.85M
  • Baldwin: $15M
  • Coffee: $15M
  • Jackson: $15M
  • Sumter: $11.3M
  • Conecuh: $10M
  • Covington: $10M
  • Dallas: $10M
  • Marshall: $10M
  • Randolph: $10M
  • Russell: $10M
  • Tallapoosa: $10M
  • Morgan: $9.6M
  • Perry: $7.5M
  • Macon: $7M
  • Blount: $4M
  • Marengo: $.13M
  • Source: Legislative Services Agency


Some of that surplus money is dedicated to statewide uses: $275 million for a tax rebate to Alabamians; $500 million for an education savings account.

But when it comes to spending at specific entities and projects, Orr pointed to a breakdown by the Legislative Services Agency of allocations by county shows Mobile received the fourth highest amount of money — nearly $70 million — after Jefferson County, $105 million, Tuscaloosa County, $85 million, and Madison County, $81 million. 

Mapped out, the figures speak for themselves regarding investments in education and workforce training, Orr said.

The education supplemental is of particular interest because it’s the last of COVID-19 cash. It was created from excess revenue beyond what was expected in the 2022 fiscal year. Much of it is attributed to the federal pandemic relief that buoyed the budgets of Alabamians, businesses and state agencies. That spending is now drying up. 

“(We’re particularly concerned) about the supplemental because we won’t have it again,” Lyons told Alabama Daily News.

The supplemental does include $30 million for the Center for Excellence in Aviation in Mobile, a joint project between Bishop State and Coastal Alabama community colleges, about $36 million for the University of South Alabama; and $5 million for the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile.

Meanwhile, Pringle said the airport and especially the coal terminal have statewide impact. 

“We don’t dig coal down here on the coast,” he said.

John Driscoll, chief executive officer of the Alabama Port Authority, told Alabama Daily News that though McDuffie Coal Terminal is located in South Alabama, the the $25 million investment sought from the state is critical to the entire state, especially Jefferson, Tuscaloosa, and Walker counties.

“Alabama’s coal is sought after by steelmakers worldwide, and the industry depends on McDuffie Coal Terminal to get it there,” Driscoll told ADN. “From the miners who mine the coal and the folks who assemble Alabama-made automobiles to the truck drivers, tug operators, and train conductors who transport coal and steel up and down Alabama’s roads, rivers, and railways, businesses statewide will benefit from this investment in McDuffie.

“The terminal’s equipment is more than 20 years past its functional lifespan and requires frequent repairs. Every hour spent making these repairs is an hour that decreases the productivity and economic impact of businesses dependent on this incredibly high-quality coal.”

The authority began making upgrades to McDuffie more than a year ago, but more than $100 million in improvements is still needed. Whatever the authority can get from the Legislature is less it has to borrow.

Rep. Jamie Kiel, R-Russellville, is vice-chair of the House education budget committee. Earlier in the session he said projects in the supplemental not related to education were at risk of being cut. On Friday, he said his position hadn’t changed.

Kiel agrees the port project is “absolutely important.”

“I’m just not sure it’s an educational expense,” Kiel said.

Garrett and Kiel also said lawmakers have been diligent in spreading the money equitably around the state.

The Senate-passed supplemental also deleted about $31 million for a residential, health care profession-focused high school in Demopolis. Instead, the bill calls for a feasibility study related to the school proposal.

Last week, a group from Demopolis and the University of Alabama Birmingham, which runs the hospital in the city, met with some House members. They’re hoping to get funding for the project restored. They’ll be back at the State House when the budget bills are in committee.

Sean Parker, president of Demopolis’ Main Street organization, is one of those advocating for the magnet high school in west Alabama. The state needs medical professionals in rural areas. It makes sense that they learn in a rural area, Parker said. 

“We are representative of what most of this state looks like,” Parker said. “The purpose of this school is to help our absolute, complete and utter shortage of health care workers in rural Alabama.” 

He also said the high school “could change this community forever” and educate generations of students.

“And what if some of them stay?” Parker said. “What if one of them starts a clinic in Greensboro? In Uniontown? In Marion or Thomasville … what an impact this could have on the area.” 

Speaker of the House Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, said Thursday he’d like to see a feasibility study before the projects move forward.

The funding bills will eventually go back to Ivey for her signature.

“Alabama is making record investments that will benefit all Alabamians for many years ahead, and that is something to be proud of,” Ivey said in a written statement to Alabama Daily News. “… My budget proposals included various projects important to local communities in all corners of the state. Investing in communities is investing in education, and with a record, one-time surplus, it is my ultimate hope that these dollars are invested in lasting ways that communities can point to a generation from now. I am pleased that the Legislature has begun to advance their budget proposals, and I look forward to continued work to ensure we collectively produce the best possible budgets for the people who call Alabama home.”

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