By Chip Brownlee
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives late Thursday night concurred with the $1.8-billion General Fund Budget passed by the Senate last week. The House vote will send the bill on to Governor Kay Ivey for her signature.
The House voted 93-6 to agree with largely minor changes the Senate tacked on last week. Republicans quickly moved to cloture debate after a long day of delays leading up to a contentious vote on the House GOP’s redistricting plan.
The General Fund Budget supplies money for all of Alabama’s non-education agencies and programs. The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 24-4. With both chambers agreeing, the Legislature has completed one of its two constitutional duties, barring an Ivey veto, which appears unlikely.
Their other duty is to pass the Education Trust Fund. The House voted 100-0 Thursday to send the $6-billion education budget to conference committee, where lawmakers hope to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions in time for the end of the Legislative Session next week.
The General Fund Budget level-funds most of the state’s agencies but includes a $3.3-million budget increase for the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, which originally asked for a $60-million budget increase in January.
The House passed its original budget in March with little fanfare.
The debate in the Senate last week was more raucous when Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, and Sen. Phil Williams (R-Rainbow City) got into a verbal altercation over Williams’ proposal to move funds from the Tourism Department to Veterans Affairs.
Williams amendment would have taken money from two revenue-based Birmingham events, angering Smitherman. Before the cloture motion in the House Thursday, Rep. John Rogers echoed Smitherman’s complaints.
“Y’all are driving us into a corner,” Rogers said. “We have to fight back.”
The budget found negligible savings in several areas after the shakeup in the Governor’s Office earlier this year. A vacated seat for the Lieutenant Governor saves the State $60,000 while an empty SERVE Alabama saves more than $200,000.
“This budget funds the core functions of State government while protecting taxpayers from any tax increases,” said Pittman, chairman of the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund committee. “The increase for the ALEA will put an additional 30 State Troopers on the roads, making our highways safer.”
The flat funding was a welcome relief for some lawmakers who were concerned that an amendment for a 3-percent across-the-board agency budget cut would hurt the state’s already beleaguered Medicaid Agency. A 3-percent cut for Medicaid would have meant a loss of $20 million in State funding and $80 million in Federal matching funds.
The budget retains a near-$93 million budget reserve as lawmakers look ahead to next year’s budget when excess funding to the tune of $105 million from a settlement with BP Oil over the 2011 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill could run out, according to Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) the House General Fund Budget committee chair
Lawmakers are also concerned that changes to the Affordable Care Act or an all-out repeal could bring big shakeups to Alabama’s Medicaid and Child Health Insurance Program Federal funding matches. In 2016, then-Gov. Robert Bentley brought the Legislature back to a Special Session over what he said was an $85 million Medicaid funding shortfall.
The year before, lawmakers faced a $200 million shortfall, which took two special sessions to solve.
This year’s budget, once enrolled, will await Ivey’s signature.