By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Thursday, February 25, the Alabama Senate passed a $1.8 billion State General Fund (SGF) budget for fiscal Year 2017. This SGF budget level-funds most State agencies, including State troopers and Corrections, and contains no tax increases.
The new Chairman of the Senate General Fund Budget Committee Trip Pittman said, “This is a tough but workable budget for the people of Alabama. It level-funds many state agencies, while increasing funds for Public Health and our National Guard units. I look forward to the House’s input and ideas on the budget.”
According to a statement by Pittman, this budget would increases by $2.5 million the funding for both the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Human Resources. Public Health received an additional $10 million over last year, due to the tuberculosis outbreak in west Alabama.
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) said. “I want to commend Senator Pittman’s diligent work on getting the General Fund out on the 10th Legislative Day, one of the fastest in recent memory. Getting started on the budget process prior to the beginning of session no doubt helped everyone involved. I believe everybody in the Legislature was eager to pass the General Fund in a timely manner to avoid a summer of special sessions.”
Sen. Marsh said, “This is an early version of the General Fund and it is expected to change as it continues to progress through the legislative process. Obviously we had to make cuts in some places but the people of Alabama sent us to Montgomery to make those tough decisions. I am proud that we were able to level fund most agencies without raiding the Education Trust Fund, and without raising taxes on the hard-working people of Alabama.”
Alabama Arise Citizens’ Policy Project Executive Director Kimble Forrister warned that this SGT budget could force deep cuts to Medicaid. Executive Director Forrister said, “Medicaid is the foundation of Alabama’s entire health care system, and it’s essential to protect it. Our state has gotten federal approval for promising new Medicaid reforms to save money and keep Alabamians healthier. Now we need to invest in these reforms to make them work.”
Forrister continued, “Medicaid insures many of the most vulnerable Alabamians: children, seniors, and people with disabilities. As the budget debate goes forward, we hope lawmakers will be careful not to send patients a message that their basic health care could be at risk. Considering how important Medicaid is to the health of our neighbors and our economy, we need to approach this debate with the urgency and gravity it deserves.”
The budget process began in January when the legislators held a week of in-depth hearings on each state department’s budget request before the session even began, as part of a new zero-based budgeting approach, designed to carefully comb through the budget requests of every State agency.
Sen. Marsh said, “Getting started on the budget process prior to the beginning of session no doubt helped everyone involved. I believe everybody in the Senate was eager to pass the General Fund in a timely manner to avoid a summer of Special Sessions.”
Alabama is one of the few states to divide the budget into two funds: the SGF and the Education Trust Fund (ETF). In 2015 the legislature passed a balanced SGF budget that made over $180 million in cuts to the SGF. Governor Robert Bentley (R) demanded more robust funding for the SGF with massive tax increases. After two Special Sessions, the legislature passed and the Governor signed an SGF with ~$66 million in new taxes on nursing home beds, prescription drugs, and cigarettes; ~$66 million in cuts from fiscal year 2015 levels; and ~$66 million in use taxes that were permanently transferred from the Education Trust Fund. Education was allowed to weaken their reserve fund in order to make up for those cuts.