By TODD STACY, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Top state lawmakers say the biggest immediate issue the Legislature faces as it prepares to gather in Montgomery is the allocation of some $580 million in federal relief funds.
It’s a task that could complicate the entire election year session, which is why many expect Gov. Kay Ivey to call a special session within the regular session to focus lawmakers’ attention solely on the American Rescue Plan Act funds.
“That’s a good discussion,” Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed, R-Jasper, said on Alabama Public Television’s Capitol Journal about the effectiveness of a special session.
“The idea of being able to separate the ARPA funds and the allocation and process of dealing with those is going to be important for the Legislature,” Reed said.
[The Reed interview begins at 10:25 and the Poole interview begins at 33:01]
Suggested uses for the funds include shoring up health care infrastructure, expanding broadband internet access throughout the state and assistance for water and sewer service for rural areas.
Only the governor can call a special session.
Gina Maiola, a spokeswoman for Gov. Kay Ivey, would not say if a special session was in the works but said the governor wants the ARPA funds to be an “early priority” when lawmakers convene on Tuesday.
“The governor wants this to be an early priority for the Legislature,” Maiola said. “She has stressed time and again that we need to invest this one-time money, not just casually spend it.
“… The sooner these dollars reach the people of our state, the better.”
State Finance Director Bill Poole echoed those sentiments saying the sooner Alabama allocates the money the more likely it would beat other states to the punch for finite resources.
“Consider on top of that the federal infrastructure bill. Here again we are going to have another wave of federal funds, and that’s going to create more issues relative to supply and contractors to do this work: broadband, fiber, the cost of materials on all these different eligible expenditures,” Poole said.
“Every state is going to deploy those funds so it is going to create a lot of pressure and it’s going to create timeline challenges.”
A similar approach was taken in 2019 when Ivey called a special session at the very beginning of the regular session in order to focus lawmakers’ attention specifically on the gas tax and infrastructure plan.
House Ways and Means General Fund Chairman Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, told the Associated Press he also supports the idea of a special session to isolate the issue and to get money flowing for infrastructure projects.
“We need to go ahead and get the money in the pipeline because it’s going to be hard to get these projects completed in a timely manner over the next few years,” Clouse said.