By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter
The General Fund, one of Alabama’s two budgets, passed out of committee Wednesday.
The Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee approved the bill sponsored by Chairman of the committee Sen. Tripp Pittman, R-Montrose, after going line-by-line through the changes in the substituted version of the budget.
Pittman said the version passed through the committee was similar to requests by the Governor’s Office, which called for a substantial increase in certain state departments.
One item–the Department of Corrections–received a $50 million boost in funding under the budget passed by the committee. Prisons, a key system overseen by Corrections, were a key part of Gov. Kay Ivey’s vision for the state presented in her State of the State address in January.
Department of Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn, speaking to reporters after the committee meeting, said the increase will help him address prisoner health care and mental health services provided by the department.
Alabama’s mental health care service faces a grave future with a pending lawsuit by prisoners in the system. U.S. Federal Judge Myron Thompson gave a scathing ruling last year that found the system would need to be improved quickly or face a federal takeover.
Dunn also said the money could begin to address the staffing problems in Alabama’s prisons, which was a new focus of the Ivey administration.
Gov. Robert Bentley, Ivey’s predecessor, advocated for building new prisons while Ivey supported addressing staffing issues and infrastructure problems with existing prisons.
Along with the General Fund came a bill to raise the pay of state employees by 3 percent. While the bill passed the committee, Pittman had concerns of the long-term affects of the measure.
Pittman said he was concerned about the reoccurring expense of a permanent raise in an uncertain economic future. Despite the concern, Pittman said he believed the budget as passed in the committee was a good budget.
The General Fund now goes to the Senate floor for their consideration.