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Focus on budget, supplemental bills starts this week

Lawmakers are expected this week to begin discussing the state’s two 2025 fiscal budgets, committee chairmen said.

Gov. Kay Ivey in February proposed a $3.3 billion General Fund for 2025, an 8.16% increase over the current year. Her education spending proposal is $9.3 billion, a 6% increase. Along with the regular budgets, there are two supplemental spending plans for one-time money available this fiscal year. The education supplemental is $651.2 million, the General Fund supplemental is $189.7 million.

The education budget this session starts in the House, sponsored by Education Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville.

“I expect the budget to be on the House floor the week of (April 9th),” Garrett said. “Between now and then, we’ll put a schedule out, we’ll have a public hearing and committee meeting.” 

Asked about significant potential changes from what Ivey proposed in February, Garrett said he and committee members have to discuss those.

“We’re still working through everything,” he said.

Budget leaders also have to consider a slew of tax cut and credit bills pending in both chambers that would have negative impacts on the Education Trust Fund.

We’re gonna have to very quickly prioritize and evaluate them and determine which, if any, we want to move forward with,” Garrett said.

As of February, five months into the fiscal year, receipts into the ETF ticked up a bit in February but were still down .45% year-over-year.

The General Fund budget starts in the Senate with Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore.

Albritton said his tentative goal is to have the budget in committee on Wednesday. “I’m trying to get it moved as soon as I can,” he said on Thursday.

He wasn’t prepared to talk about any significant deviations from what Ivey proposed.

Overall, the General Fund was up about 12% as of February, but growth has been slowing and is largely based on receipts on state deposits that are still benefiting from high interest rates set by the Federal Reserve.

Albritton is cautious.

“It’s a slow progression, but I do see declining revenues,” Albritton told Alabama Daily News. “I do see difficulties ahead.

“I think that the obligations we have exceed what our future revenues will be able to stand.” 

Albritton has previously asked some General Fund agencies for more accounting of their spending and the results achieved with it. He’ll likely do the same in the coming weeks.

“When we put people’s resources toward an issue, something positive needs to happen,” he said. “My goal is that what we put money in has an effect for good.”

As the General Fund moves, expect Albritton and his House counterpart, Rep. Rex Reynolds, R-Hazel Green, to seek more money for the planned state prison in Escambia County. Lawmakers in 2021 committed to building two 4,000-bed prisons and the one in Elmore County is well underway, but material price increases and changes in plans have raised its cost to more than $1 billion and the state doesn’t currently have enough money for the second prison in Albritton’s district. 

“We have to focus on the next prison,” Reynolds told Alabama Daily News. “It’s tough, but we’re working with the Executive Budget Office and trying to figure out what our options are, financing and how much cash-on-hand we’ll have left when we get through with the (Elmore) prison construction.”

Aside from the budgets and supplemental spending bills, another one-time appropriation bill is expected soon. The Opioid Settlement Oversight Commission, chaired by Reynolds, has held several meetings looking for suggestions on how to best spend more than $200 million in settlement funds coming to the state.

The commission’s report is expected late this week, Reynolds said, and it will likely be accompanied by another supplemental bill for available funding, which he said was about $30 million.

“We’re continuing to work on a timeline with the Attorney General to see when the other funding will start coming in,” he said.

At least some of the available funding will be dedicated to the Alabama Department of Mental Health, Reynolds said.

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