MONTGOMERY, Ala. – General Fund spending plans that give a 2% raise to state employees, save a bit for a rainy day and pay off some state debts were approved in the Legislature Thursday.
The $3 billion 2024 General Fund budget and the rare supplemental with about $207.6 million represent record revenue for the state and lawmakers are well aware their spending spree may be coming to an end as revenue levels off and inflation remains an issue.
During a marathon, 16-hour State House session that stretched into this morning and saw expenditures move between multiple budgets, some Senators urged fiscal caution while others fought for money for projects in their areas.
“How do you leave the Capital City out of both budgets, and how do you walk up to me with a smile on your face knowing what you’ve done?” Sen. Kirk Hatcher, D-Montgomery, said on the Senate floor while advocating for funding for a whitewater and outdoor adventure park under construction near Maxwell Air Force Base. Gov. Kay Ivey in March proposed $25 million in education funding for the park but lawmakers nixed it, saying it wasn’t an education expense.
Hatcher and Sen. Will Barfoot, R-Pike Road, said the project was key to keeping Maxwell open, would be an economic engine for the area and an educational opportunity for young people.
By about midnight, lawmakers allocated $5 million in the General Fund supplemental for the project.
Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, repeatedly voiced concerns that General Fund money was being spent on items outside state government while there were still financial needs within state agencies and services. He also said the state should be spending less and preparing for an economic downturn.
“Where we’re headed is exactly where we were in 2015 when we came in,” Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, said about bad budget years. “We are going to be scrapping and clawing and trying to figure out how to balance the budgets.”
The General Fund spending bills and the nearly $12 billion in spending plans from the Education Trust Fund were all approved late Thursday and early Friday. Lawmakers wanted to get the budgets to Ivey’s desk in order to start the clock on her five day window to veto them. They’ll be able to override, if necessary, and end the session in early June. The constitution gives lawmakers until June 19 to end the session.
The General Fund supplemental includes $50 million to a savings account and almost $40 million to pay off four state bonds.
“We’re trying to take care of the debt that we owe and save for the future,” Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, said on the Senate floor. He’s the Senate General Fund committee chairman.
At the start of Thursday, $23 million for a court-ordered expansion of the Alabama Department of Mental Health’s Taylor Hardin Secure Facility in Tuscaloosa had been removed from the supplemental. Several lawmakers rallied for the project, as did mental health advocates.
“It’s an active project as we stand here today,” Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa said. “If we miss this timeline, we’re going to be paying a lot, lot more for this project.”
At the end of the day, Taylor Hardin received $18 million from the supplemental and $5 million from the education budget.
North Alabama Senators noted a decrease in funding for equipment at the new Alabama Department of Forensics lab in Huntsville. It was eventually increased.
“We built that building, now we need to equip it,” Sen. Sam Givhan, R-Huntsville said.
Albritton allocated money for two projects previously trimmed from the $2.8 billion education supplemental. The Mobile Airport Authority will get $5 million toward a new downtown airport and the State Port Authority would get $20 million for upgrades to coal moving equipment.
“I think we have done a good job in moving forward Alabama — and moving forward all of Alabama,” Albritton said early this morning.
The $3 billion 2024 General Fund had fewer changes Thursday. Lawmakers reversed an earlier Senate decision to transfer $23.5 million from the Alabama Department of Transportation to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. Though that transfer has happened every year for more than a decade, ALDOT had previously been told it could keep the money in 2024 and it plans to use it to draw down $94 million in federal funds, spokesman Tony Harris told Alabama Daily News.
Multiple senators praised the restoration of the funds to ALDOT.
The change did not decrease ALEA funding. In the end, Albritton said the state was spending a bit more than he wanted, but the General Fund allocations helped draw down those federal road dollars.
Alabama Daily News’ Anna Barrett contributed to this report.