The Alabama Senate General Fund budget committee approved Wednesday funding bills the chairman said “keep us from spending every dollar we have.”
Both the proposed $3 billion 2024 General Fund and the now $180 million supplemental spending bill are less as of Wednesday than what was approved in the House previously.
“You will notice there has been an overall reduction of spending from the House to the Senate,” committee chairman Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, told the committee. He cited multiple agencies’ ongoing capital projects and increased construction costs as a reason to be conservative with available dollars.
House Bill 124 is the General Fund; House Bill 125 is the supplemental. The committee-changed supplemental was not available to the public Wednesday. Albritton said a software glitch kept it from being posted online.
Lawmakers are in a rare situation this year in that they have the 2024 General Fund and education budgets to approve and also two supplemental spending bills made up of excess revenue from the last fiscal year. All four could get final votes today.
Through the budgeting process, some expenses have shifted from the various pots of money.
In the General Fund supplemental, which the committee trimmed by about $21.3 million from what the House passed, Albritton allocated money for two projects previously trimmed from the $2.8 billion education supplemental. The Mobile Airport Authority would get $5 million toward a new downtown airport and the State Port Authority would get $20 million for upgrades to coal moving equipment.
The committee approved cutting in the supplemental about $23 million from the Alabama Department of Mental Health for court-ordered expansion and renovations at Taylor Hardin Secure Medical Facility in Tuscaloosa.
In response to questions by senators, Albritton said the state can’t pay for every project that goes over budget. He started warning department leaders last summer that inflation was a looming issue and to plan accordingly.
“If we start taking on the over expenses in construction in every job … we will be broke very soon,” Albritton said Wednesday.
The latest version of the General Fund represents an increase in funding to ADMH of about $16 million from current year to $210.5 million.
Meanwhile, the Gov. Kay Ivey proposed $4.8 million for the new Department of Forensics lab in Huntsville was cut by $3 million, raising concerns from lawmakers from north Alabama.
Rep. Rex Reynolds, the House General Fund chairman, told Alabama Daily News that facility will serve much of the state.
“We already have a backlog of cases in Alabama,” Reynolds, R-Huntsville, said about evidence in criminal cases.
Wednesday evening, Reynolds was going over the changes from what he and the House originally approved. He said he supported some of the changes — like funding the coal equipment at the port — but not all of them.
“There are some very serious cuts in there,” Reynolds said. “Albritton and I have worked well together and I hope we can find compromise (Thursday).”
In a General Fund spreadsheet available online, it looks like the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency was cut in the General Fund $21.2 million on Wednesday.
But the more detailed budget shows a transfer to ALEA from an Alabama Department of Transportation fund. That transfer has existed for years, but this year, ALDOT thought it would keep the money and planned to use it, spokesman Tony Harris told Alabama Daily News Wednesday evening.
“The governor’s proposed budget restored to ALDOT the remaining $23.5 million that was diverted to other purposes for more than a dozen years,” Harris said in an email to ADN. “We engaged in discussions during the past year about the need to end the diversion in order to match additional federal funds under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. ALDOT is relying on this $23.5 million to match $94 million in federal funds.
“If the committee change isn’t reversed, it’s a loss totaling $117.5 million to our road and bridge program in FY2024. It would be the first time ever that the State of Alabama fails to match all available federal funding.”
Albritton Wednesday evening told ADN that his responsibility is to give state agencies what they need — not what they want.
“My job is to try to keep the growth of government small,” he said. “I haven’t cut anybody from (this year’s) budget, there hasn’t been a reduction at all. But I am trying to get control of this growth that inflation causes and that these fat budgets cause because if we let government continue to grow and we have an economic downturn, we’re going to be over our heads quickly.”