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Inflation, litigation see Alabama agency budget requests soar


MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Several Alabama state agencies made their 2025 budget requests to lawmakers during a hearing Monday, most of which were substantially higher than the previous year due to inflation, litigation and expansions, department heads said.

“The cost of everything — even ammo and going to the range — is going up,” said Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Hal Taylor, who requested a roughly 42% budget increase for his department.

In the current year, ALEA is receiving more than $114 million from the General Fund. Taylor’s asking for $47.6 million more in 2025, including about $23 million for law enforcement officers’ salaries, benefits, equipment and training.

Some of that increase would cover better communication systems for troopers, who Taylor said often have no way to communicate with other law enforcement often when they exit their vehicles during traffic stops.

Another $5 million would build a new driver’s license office in Montgomery to replace the current building that is more than 50 years old.

Sen. Greg Albritton speaks during a Feb. 5 budgetary hearing.

Several agency leaders also spoke to the need for more mental health services in the state.

“We have entirely too many inmates who probably should have been stopped somewhere along the way before they ended up in our facilities,” said John Hamm, Alabama Department of Corrections commissioner.

Outside of Medicaid, ADOC is the largest General Fund expense. Hamm asked for $819 million in 2025. The current year allocation from the General Fund is $661.4 million.

Some of that increase — $83.5 million — would fund court-ordered requirements, including increases in inmate medical care, $25 million, and ADA upgrades, $55.5 million. 

Hamm also updated lawmakers on the progress of the nearly $1.1 billion prison under construction in Elmore County. It has a completion date of May 2026.

Rep. Rex Reynolds, R-Huntsville, told Hamm lawmakers get regular emails from Alabamians concerned about the condition of state prisons. He asked Hamm how the new prison will decrease violence.

Being built for 4,000 inmates, the new prison will be 75% two-bed cells and 25% open-door style.

Currently most prisons have large dorms holding hundreds of inmates, creating environments that have proven dangerous and deadly.

“It will make the inmate population safer,” Hamm said about the new prison. “I look forward to that.”  

Cam Ward, director of Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Parole, requested $100.2 million for 2025, an about 2% increase he attributed mostly to inflation and salaries. About 80% of ABPP’s costs are salaries and benefits.

Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles Director Cam Ward.

Nancy Buckner, the commissioner of the Alabama Department of Human Resources, asked lawmakers for a $72.9 million budget increase in 2025, nearly $26 million of which would be used to help address mental health needs for children who come into contact with ADHR through its child care and welfare services. More than $5 million of the increase was directly for inflation.

One of the department’s biggest challenges, Buckner said, was its ability to retain enough child welfare workers, which, with a turnover rate in 2023 of 61%, was exacerbated by the number of high-risk youth within the department’s foster system.

“We got children that were never meant to be on a child welfare system; we’ve got children starting fires in our buildings, (and) we’ve got workers tied up watching them,” Buckner said. 

“We’ve got workers that have been stabbed, kicked, bit to the extent they had to go to the emergency room. That’s hurting us because of our turnover rate; people don’t want to work in those conditions, and it’s tying up our workers which we’re really short of.”

Stephanie Azar, commissioner of the Alabama Medicaid Agency, had a budget request of $955 million, a $92 million increase over the previous year. Inflation, Azar said, was a significant component in the increased request, with nursing home, pharmacy and Medicare Advantage costs increasing by more than 5%. Medicaid utilization increases, along with a decrease in federal dollars flowing into the state, were also cited as reasons for the increase.

The Department of Mental Health’s 2025 budget ask is $327.6 million, a $39.6 million increase over the previous year. Kim Boswell, ADMH commissioner, named the major expansion of services as among the reasons for the increase, including $15.3 million for wage increases and new staff. 

Alabama Department of Mental Health Commissioner Kim Boswell.

Nearly $12 million of the budget increase was requested to address under-staffing as part of a 2023 settlement agreement. Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, after hearing a number of agency heads bring up litigation and settlement agreements in their budget requests, said he was “very concerned” as what he called a “continual issue.”

“These obligations are being entered into, and we as a Legislature are not a player in that, the only thing we get is the bill,” Albritton said. 

“I don’t know about you all, but I don’t know how we can continue in this. I’m extremely concerned about how we’re going to continue with this. The obligations are far exceeding what the potential revenue is.”

Following the hearing, Boswell told Alabama Daily News that addressing the root causes of litigation through improving agency services would be the best way to address Albritton’s concerns going forward.

“If you can agree on what the issues are and say how you’re going to address those issues, then you get to spend the money on services instead of on litigation,” Boswell said. 

“So from a policy standpoint, our department is going to try to negotiate those situations so that we can actually have whatever money is being spent going into services instead of paying for litigation.”

Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, told ADN that it was crucial the Legislature meet the agency’s budget requests, particularly that of the health service agencies.

“The bottom line is we need to find money,” Warren said. “We need to find a way to generate revenue to take care of the business of the state because the needs are here and you can’t just continually push them to the side because they are only going to get worse.”

Rep. Rex Reynolds, R-Hazel Green, was also optimistic at being able to meet most, if not all of the agencies’ budget requests, noting that many of the budgets included one-time expenses, something the state’s growing General Fund was in a strong position to facilitate.

“This would be the year to address a lot of those one-time needs; you’ve heard some bricks and mortar asks from the department heads, fleet replacement and things like that,” Reynolds told ADN. “You are going to do that in those years you are seeing that kind of increase because it may not last going forward.”

Lawmakers this morning will hear 2025 budget projections Director of Finance Bill Poole and Legislative Services Agency Deputy Director Kirk Fulford.

Alabama Daily News intern Stuart Dyos contributed to this report.

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