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House passes general fund budget, 2 percent state employee pay increase

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama House of Representatives passed the state general fund budget, HB152, on Tuesday. HB152 is sponsored by House Ways and Means Chairman Steve Clouse, R-Ozark. HB152 passed 103 to 0.

The House also passed HB166, sponsored by the late Rep. Dimitri Polizos, R-Montgomery, to give state employees a 2 percent cost of living allowance. There was no bonus for retired employees.

State Rep. Kelvin Lawrence, D-Hayneville, handled HB166 on the House floor after Polizos unexpectedly passed away from a heart attack.

Lawrence said the pay raise bill has a fiscal note of $40 million. HB166 passed 103 to 0. Chairman Clouse said the budget is “a process. It is like putting a big puzzle together.”

The state has one budget for the state general fund and a second budget for education, the education trust fund. The state also has billions of dollars in off the budget funding from other sources and billions in federal matching dollars.

The 2020 fiscal year SGF budget that passed the House funds the SGF $2,145,825,797. The FY 2019 SGF was $2,054.901,265 and the 2018 SGF was just over $1.9 billion.

The Alabama Department of Corrections will receive $517,053,750 in the 2020 general fund budget. The budget includes additional money to offer more money for prison guards in order to recruit and retain more guards. ADOC hopes to hire an additional 500 guards. The federal government has recently cited the state for its chronically underfunded and understaffed prisons.

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The Alabama Department of Mental Health received $127,929,306 in the SGF.

The Alabama Medicaid Agency was budgeted $703,419,531, a substantial decrease from 2019 due to the improving economy and some one time money from a tobacco settlement.

Rep. Kerry Rich said there are not enough beds for the mentally ill.

“We are not going to pass any new taxes,” Rich said. “If we are going to fix it, it is with a lottery. That will bring in $100 million, maybe $150 million. If we did a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians that would bring in $850 million a year.”

Clouse said he is proposing carrying over $105 million from the 2020 fiscal year budget to the 2021 fiscal year budget because he anticipates that the state will have to increase its funding of the Children Health Insurance Program by over $70 million and will need more funding for Medicaid.

“We know that we are going to have to come up with at least $110 million more next year for CHIP and Medicaid,” Clouse said.

“Down the road there is a dinosaur waiting to eat us up,” said State Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham. “We got to bite the bullet to put the money in the general fund to help the people of Alabama.”

State Representative Artis “A.J.”McCampbell, D-Livingston, said the state has been given 60 days to present a plan to address the federal government’s concerns about Alabama’s prison system.

“We are now considered to have the most violent prison system in the country,” said State Rep. Christopher John England, D-Tuscaloosa.

“Mega prisons are absolutely not the way to go,” England said. “If the current leadership remains in place they are going to be as dangerous and as poorly run as they are now. The same person who has been in charge the last four years should not be given a billion dollars to spend on new prisons.”

England warned the Ivey administration will get us tied into a private prison lease agreement that we will never be able to get out of.

“We don’t know what the governor is going to ask to build the new prisons,” said State Rep. Napoleon Bracy, D-Prichard. “We have got to get some revenue from somewhere.”

Rogers said there is not enough money in an Alabama lottery. He suggested legalizing sports betting and possibly raising property taxes in order to better fund prisons and expand Medicaid.

Clouse said expanding Medicaid would cost the state general fund budget $168 million a year.

“When there are 200 prisoners to one guard, who is really running the prisons? The prisoners are,” Rogers said. “You can’t give a man enough money to risk his life.”

Reporters asked Clouse how many new prison guards will be hired and how much the pay will be raised for guards.

“The goal is to hire the 500,” Clouse said. “The goal is a 20 percent pay raise.”

“What is the cost of building three new prisons?” Clouse said. “We are waiting to see if that is feasible and if that is the way the governor wants to go.”

“The governor has been very communicative with the legislative leadership to try to find an answer on this,” Clouse said. “We have got to see what the cost is. There are a lot of concerns about the cost of lease deal.”

Clouse said the increase for ADOC this year will be to “try to secure more staff, security and hiring more mental health professionals.”

“It has been very difficult to find employees in this environment,” he said.

Clouse also said Medicaid will need $40 million more next year, 2021, and the CHIP will need $70 million more, and that is before any additional needs from Corrections or Mental Health.

Clouse told reporters he was happy to be able to offer a pay increase to state employees.

“That was certainly not on our radar four or five months ago, plus we were able to keep insurance rates from going up,” Clouse said.

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