By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Tuesday, March 15, the Alabama House of Representatives will be back in session. The main topic of the day is expected to be the State General Fund budget (SGF). Again ballooning Medicaid and Department of Corrections costs and the chronic lack of growth revenues dedicated to the SGF means the state is once again facing a budget crisis in the SGF, even though last week the same House passed a record education trust fund budget (ETF). The SGF that came down from the state Senate cut the costly Alabama Medicaid program by $100 million.
On Saturday, State Representative Jim Carns (R-Vestavia) told the Mid-Alabama Republican Club that the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee found $15 million to cut that shortfall to just $85 million.
State Representative Christopher John England (D-Tuscaloosa) House goes into session tomorrow at 1 PM. We will be debating the general fund budget. We are set to pass a budget tomorrow that will underfund Medicaid by approximately 85 million dollars from last year’s appropriation. Governor Bentley will probably veto it and we will likely be in another special session in the near future.”
The Speaker of the House of Representative Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) told Alabama Today that the legislature will pass a budget which cuts Medicaid; but he predicted that, in a repeat of last year’s budget drama, Gov. Bentley will call a special session in the summer to deal with the Medicaid issue.
On Wednesday, March 14, Alabama Arise held a legislative day in which they asked the legislature to raise taxes on cigarettes by as much as 75 cents a pack to fully fund Alabama Medicaid.
Alabama Arise Citizens’ Policy Project Executive Director Kimble Forrister said in a statement: “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.”
Alabama is one of the few states to divide the budget into two funds: the SGF and the Education Trust Fund (ETF). In the 2015 legislative session the Alabama 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.
This year the House has already passed an ETF budget that fully funds transportation, textbooks, and a large teacher pay raise.