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House passes General Fund budget that increases funding for state agencies

By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama House of Representatives passed the General Fund budget Tuesday, sending a bill to the Senate that increases funding across the board for state agencies and programs for the next fiscal year.

As passed, the $2.47 billion budget is an increase of $78.9 million over the current fiscal year’s General Fund and $15 million more than Gov. Kay Ivey’s original budget proposal from February. It includes a 2% pay raise for state employees.

Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, who chairs the House General Fund budget committee, said he felt lawmakers arrived at a good budget, which was reflected in the 101-1 vote in the House. Rep. Andrew Sorrell, R-Muscle Shoals, was the lone no vote.

“All in all, I felt like this was a good budget that leaves some money on the table that will help us get ready for any other surprises that are coming down the road,” Clouse said.

Referencing a year ago when the legislative session shut down over the COVID-19 threat, Clouse said that despite much uncertainty from the pandemic, “we were able to stay out of proration and stayed pretty much where we felt we would be at the end of October had the virus never occurred.”

One of the most significant increases in the budget is a $26.3 million-plus up for the Alabama Department of Corrections. Ivey and ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn have said most of the new funds would be directed toward improving health care, including mental health care, in state prisons. Last year, a federal judge ruled that the medical health care in Alabama prisons was “horribly inadequate” and ordered the state to make improvements.

The Department of Mental Health would see a $10 million increase in the House-passed budget, much of which would go toward establishing another crisis diversion center in the Birmingham-Tuscaloosa region, according to Finance Director Kelly Butler. The state is in the process of opening three crisis diversion centers in Mobile, Montgomery and Huntsville.

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency would receive a $7.9 million increase over the current fiscal year which help fund increased State House security and the new technology-driven driver’s license system.

The General Fund got a break this year as federal matching dollars for the state Medicaid program and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, were higher than usual. That means while actual funding won’t decrease, the state will spend $51 million less on Medicaid and $12 million less on CHIP.

“It’s hard to say anything good came from the virus, but one thing that did happen is (the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare) raised the FMAP, or the amount the feds pay as opposed to the state for Medicaid, and that 6% meant them asking for more than $50 million less, and that was very good news,” Clouse said.

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