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‘Difficult’ budget negotiations ongoing

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama General Fund will pay for a health insurance program for low-income children, Senate leaders said Wednesday. But there are still other details in the $2.1 billion budget to be worked out Thursday, which might be the last day of this legislative session.

Meanwhile, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said Wednesday evening that the court system would not receive money from an Alabama Department of Transportation fund, a budget transfer that has happened for the last ten years.

“There was a desire to get $35 million back to road and bridges,” Marsh said. “I think we’ve found a way to do that.”

In order to garner support for the 10-cent-a-gallon gas tax approved earlier this year, Gov. Kay Ivey in February suggested stopping at least some of a $63 million annual transfer from transportation to the courts and law enforcement.

Ivey’s budget proposal left $35 million in ALDOT that had been going to courts.

Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, is the General Fund committee chairman. As of Wednesday night, he wanted the courts to keep some of that road and bridges money.

“Why did we go there in the first place? Because we didn’t have a funding source for the courts, so I’m very concerned with how the courts are going to stand this,” Albritton said. “But if negotiations continue like it looks like, we’ll be able to have the means to satisfy those means. One way or another, we’ll get there.” 

Though both the 2020 General Fund and $7.1 billion education budgets are the largest in years, but disagreements about details have prevented their final passage.

“The agreement we had with the Senate, the House and governor is that we would take half of those dollars and send them back to ALDOT,” Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, said.

But Albritton and the Senate last week restored $20 million of that transfer. He said Wednesday that stopping the ALDOT transfers wasn’t part of the gas tax discussion in the Senate. 

“I don’t feel obligated by it,” he said.

McCutcheon does.

“When we were debating the infrastructure bill, many members went back to their districts and told people that’s what we were going to do.”

Albritton has said that paying for the state’s $35 million share of the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program in 2020 and losing that $35 million for courts is too big a hit for the General Fund budget, despite a $105 million surplus in the budget.

“That’s why I’ve been such a pain in the behind. I have some extreme concerns about that, in particularly faced with what (the 2021 budget demands) will bring, which will be higher CHIP (costs), higher prisons (costs) and higher Medicaid (costs).” 

Albritton described the budget negotiations this session as “difficult.”

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, the Senate education budget chairman, has argued that CHIP should not be an eduction expense in 2020. The program for low- and mid-income children is expected to cost an $70 million more in 2021. Orr said the education budget could help with the cost then. 

Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, is on the House General Fund Committee. He said not everyone agrees that the General Fund should pay for CHIP in 2020,

“But we’ll do what we gotta do and worry about next year when we need twice that much,” Greer said.

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