The Alabama Senate unanimously passed the General Fund budget on Wednesday after a long debate over the funding of the Governor’s Office of Minority Affairs, affording the bill final passage and sending it to the governor for her signature.
Smitherman said that funding to the office has declined in recent years with the loss of funding reaching higher levels under former Gov. Robert Bentley’s tenure.
Bentley created the office in 2016 through an executive order.
The office’s main responsibilities have been to advise the governor on issues affecting minorities in the state, including women and racial minorities, and improve the quality of life for minorities across the state.
It is currently headed by Nichelle Nix who is the first and only director.
The office requested a budget of over $1 million during the budget hearings in January, but the governor’s recommendation slashed it in fourth with $200,000.
In a General Fund that is the highest since the Great Recession, Smitherman expressed he was concerned that the office continued to be neglected.
While ultimately not adding any amendment to the bill, Smitherman suggested that the funding would need to be worked out down the road.
The budget is the first to be passed out of the Legislature. The Education Trust Fund is currently in the House with Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, having called the bill to conference.
Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, took the education budget, which originally passed out of the House, and decreased spending in Pre-K and the Alabama Reading Initiative.
Weathering criticism from some in the Senate, Orr defended the decision by saying the appropriations still were among the largest increases in state history.
On the Senate floor last week, the Education budget was met with questions over the funding of Alabama State University.
The General Fund Budget, SB178 sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose, is now in the governor’s hands. Unless she were to veto the budget or return it to the Legislature with executive amendments, one half of the Legislature’s constitutional duty to pass the two state budgets is complete.