By Lee Hedgepeth
Alabama Political Reporter
This year’s General Fund budget, HB235, passed out of the House Ways and Means Committee last week and is now headed to the House Floor as early as today for debate and eventually a final vote.
With nearly all state agencies asking for significant increases in funding, but seriously limited budget constraints in place, Governor Bentley and the legislature have proposed General Fund budgets level-funding most agencies and barely stabilizing two areas that have been central to the budget debate: medicaid and the prison system.
During committee debate, one topic of serious contention was the provisional pay raise for state employees that Governor Bentley announced he would support in his State of the State address at the beginning of this session. Democrats on the committee, notably Representatives John Knight and Merika Coleman-Evans, expressed concern that there is not specific language in HB235 noting state employees’ pay raises as a so-called “first party” recipient – a raise that would be conditional, but would guarantee it as a first priority for the state.
While Democrats cited Governor Bentley as having committed to such language, Republicans in the House committee said they did not feel comfortable with adding anything that might financially put the state in budgetary obligation when issues like the prison system are at the forefront of the Yellowhammer consciousness.
Representative John Knight, D-Montgomery, offered an amendment to add “first payer” language in reference to the conditional four percent raise for state employees, but it was tabled. All Representatives present at the meeting voted to table the amendment save Democrats Knight, Coleman-Evans, and Hall.
Members of the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee are Republicans Steve Clouse, Chair, Greg Wren, Vice-Chair, Jim Carnes, Chad Fincher, Victor Gaston, Lynn Greer, Ken Johnson, Paul Lee, Wes Long, and Mike Milican, as well as Democrats Merika Coleman-Evans, Laura Hall, John Knight, and Ranking Minority member Richard Laird.
It has been widely circulated in the State House that both the General Fund and the Education Trust Fund will soon appear on the House and Senate floors for debate, amendment, and final passage.
The total of this HB235’s proposed General Fund budget, including all proposed transfers, is a little over 1.8 billion dollars.
While most agencies are, as we have reported, mostly level-funded, below are some exceptions, either increasing or decreasing significantly. This list is by no means comprehensive.
Areas where funding has increased:
Unified Judicial system – $3.1 million (includes 100,000 for the Lee County Courthouse Annex)
Department of Agriculture and Industries – $221,741
AL Trust Fund Board – $4.9 million
Medicaid – $70 million
Areas where funding has been cut:
Alabama Ethics Commission – $809,513
Department of Human Resources – $11.8 million
Department of Public Safety – $39.2 million
Department of Veterans Affairs – $467,233
Board of Pardons and Paroles – $753,106