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Ivey’s release of proposed budgets on hold

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

Details of Gov. Kay Ivey’s proposed 2020 General Fund and education budgets won’t be released until lawmakers dispense with proposed gas-tax increase.

Traditionally, the budgets are made public the day after a governor’s State of the State address, which Ivey delivered Tuesday.

State law says the governor has until the second legislative day of a regular session to submit budgets to the Legislature. But that second day won’t happen for almost two weeks because the special session on the gas tax that began Wednesday has put the regular session on hold.

Daniel Sparkman, Ivey’s spokesman, said the budgets are important to the governor, but that they won’t be presented until March 19, after lawmakers are finished dealing with the “task at hand.”

“During her State of the State address, Governor Ivey laid out her proposals for the 2020 budgets to the people of Alabama,” Sparkman said. “Though the budgets are important, right now the Legislature must focus on the task at hand, the Rebuild Alabama plan. This critical infrastructure legislation package is vital to improving public safety, economic development and quality of life in Alabama.

“As the law requires, the Governor’s budget proposals will be submitted on the second legislative day of the 2019 Regular Session.”

The governor’s proposals are generally what lawmakers build from and change before voting on their own versions.

“I am working with the administration to address this issue, which will obviously delay initiation of the budgeting process by almost two weeks,” Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said Wednesday. He’s chairman of the Senate education budget committee.

General Fund budget chairman Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, said he would have liked to have seen Ivey’s budgets Tuesday, but said she’s been forthcoming in the past about what she could or couldn’t do.

“I don’t know what her motivation is in regard to this, I think her focus is on the gas tax and that takes precedence over most everything,” Albritton said.

In the House, General Fund budget chairman Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, said he is not concerned about the delay because the lower chamber is consumed with the infrastructure plan. House education budget chairman Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, is the sponsor of Ivey’s gas tax bill. Clouse said Poole is “completely wrapped up” in finishing the infrastructure issue.

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, said he thinks Ivey’s move is strategic as she drums up support for the 10-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase to fund road and bridge improvements, which could get its first committee vote Thursday.

“I don’t think I’d do anything different,” Daniels said. “I respect the gamesmanship.

“That’s a chess move, not a checkers move.”

The state’s 2020 education budget is expected to be more than $7 billion.

“We would like to see the education budget approved as early in the session as possible so our superintendents can make plans for the next school year,” Ryan Hollingsworth, executive director of School Superintendents of Alabama, said Wednesday.

“Since the Legislature is starting this session in March, instead of January, we expected it later.  With the call of the special session, we may have to wait until June before we receive an approved budget.”

The regular session must end by mid-June.

Ivey did highlight some budget priorities in her Tuesday night speech, including a 4 percent raise for teachers and 2 percent raise for state employees, more money for the state’s pre-kindergarten program and $30 million to hire more officers at the state’s understaffed prisons.

Not mentioned was a proposed transfer of about $30 million from the Education Trust Fund to the General Fund to help pay for the Children’s Health Insurance Program for low- and middle-income children. Alabama Daily News reported the proposed budget transfer Tuesday after Ivey told reporters the move was necessary to stop so much road and bridge money from being diverted to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and the courts.

Sherry Tucker, president of the Alabama Education Association, said the potential transfer is disappointing.

“While this year may be the largest education budget in Alabama’s history, we are still working to make up for the drastic cuts made during the Great Recession,” Tucker said. “Currently, we are not fully funding key education components. Many schools need school resource officers, mental health counselors, technology coordinators and additional teachers to lower class sizes.

“Even in 2019, many Alabama schools still don’t have access to the internet. School transportation is not fully funded and many schools need major repairs and maintenance.”

The gas tax proposal could be voted on in a House committee this morning.

Alabama Daily News reporters Will Whatley and Caroline Beck contributed to this report.

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