Two Senate committees met Monday on the 2020 budgets and moved the 2021 budgets. Despite the massive economic shutdown that has crippled the state economy and thousands of businesses, reporters were assured that there will not be any need to prorate either the general fund or the education trust fund budgets in 2020.
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, told the Alabama Political Reporter that planned raises for teachers and state employees, however, would have to be scrapped.
“The state employees and teachers I talked to are just glad that they still have a check coming in through all of this,” Marsh said.
The Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Budget Committee and Senate Finance and Taxation Education Budget Committee both substituted the governor’s budget requests for substitute budgets without all of the same spending increases that the governor’s finance team had asked in rosier economic times back in February when the economy was booming – before the forced economic shutdown to fight the coronavirus.
Most state agencies are level-funded at 2020 levels though there are increases in both budgets.
State Senator Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville) vociferously opposed the substitute state general fund budget (SGF), arguing that the state does not yet what the revenue will be like for 2021, thus can not begin to write a budget.
Chambliss argued that the budgets should be “bare bones” budgets without increasing anything over 2020 levels and with no conditional appropriations for capital improvements. Chambliss warned that it would be difficult to take the money back in the next legislative session if revenues fail to live up to expectations.
Senator Jim McClendon (R-Springville) said that he was here in 2008 and 2009 when the state had to prorate budgets in the Great Recession and it is unpleasant, but you just zero out items in the budget and spend less money than was first promised.
Chambliss lamented that the legislature had not passed his “rolling reserve” for the general fund legislation.
Chambliss claimed that if the legislature had passed the general fund rolling reserve last year we would have $43 million to apply towards this. If they had done this four years ago, we would have $100 million. Chambliss said that his bill has received strong support in the Senate; but has not gone anywhere in the House. Chambliss asked his fellow Senator to work to pass the general fund rolling reserve bill during the remaining days in this session.
“It won’t help now; but it will help in five years when this happens again,” Chambliss said.
Senate Finance and Taxation Committee Chair Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) said that the education trust fund budget (ETF) will be fine for 2020 thanks to the strong economy and the record revenues that were coming in from October 1 to the beginning of March. The legislature had carried over a large cash balance from the 2019 ETF to the 2020 which also helped.
Chairman Orr explained that if the state does not spend any of the money in the technology fund, avoids any supplemental appropriations in 2020, that with the rolling reserve in the ETF they can roll a $billion from the 2020 ETF to the 2021 ETF in case 2021 revenues fall short.
APR asked Orr if the state would not be able to add any new pre-K classrooms in the 2020/2021 school year due to the revenue shortfall.
“No, you can not say that,” Orr replied. There is an increase in the 2021 budget.
Sen. Marsh said that the state has received $1.7 billion in CARES Act funding and that he wanted to spend $800 million of that to expand broadband.
APR asked why not use some of that for COVID-19 testing.
Marsh said that the state has received a total of $3 billion in federal funds. $1.3 billion was appropriated directly to the Alabama Department of Public Health and other agencies for things like testing.
APR asked: the CDC Director warned that he fears that COVID-19 will return in the winter with the flu and it will be worse the second time around. Is there any money in this budget for a second school shutdown.
“That’s why I want to do the broadband,” Marsh said. If we had this in place the children would still be in school now learning. Instead they are missing instruction. We are 50th in education. We can’t afford for them to lose any more instruction.
The Montgomery Advertiser’s Bryan Lyman asked: why not use $324 million to pay the match to expand Medicaid?
“I want to do something that will help all of the people in Alabama,” Marsh answered.
Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee Chairman Greg Albritton (R-Atmore) explained that the federal CARES Act money cannot be used to make up for budget shortfalls and there are restrictions on what that money can be used for and those rules are changing. If the federal government determines that that money was spent improperly they can claw if back.
During the Committee meeting, Sen. Billy Beasley (D-Clayton) introduced a motion to restore $400,000 that was cut from the State Auditor’s office. The committee tabled Sen. Beasley’s amendment.
APR asked why the Auditor was receiving over a 40 percent cut when every other SGF agency was level funded or receiving an increase.
Albritton replied, “I don’t know why he got an increase. $500,000 is what he got last year. If there is a need he can come talk to me.”
APR asked: the state is under a court order to add 2,000 prison guards. We had offered to raise the pay in order to recruit more guards. Is there a danger that by not increasing the pay for corrections officers that we could face a situation leading to a federal takeover of our prisons that will cost us more money in the long run?
Albritton said that we are considering that. Corrections is able to move some money over that was unused so that effectively the corrections officers will effectively see a raise. We may consider doing something like a hazardous duty pay.
Albritton said that Pardons and Paroles did not use all of their money last year so they could be cut that amount of money from this year’s budget.
Chambliss warned that in Albritton’s budget the ending 2021 balance is $100 million smaller than the ending 2020 budget and that this is a deficit.
Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison (D-Birmingham) wanted to make a program to fund airport improvements a conditional appropriation.
“No one is traveling now,” Coleman Madison explained.
State Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) said that we have created a system where the courts and the district attorneys are funded through a series of fees, fines, and court costs; but because of the shutdown, they can’t collect their fees.
Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) agreed and said that he has talked with the Tuscaloosa District Attorney and we need to do something for the district attorneys and the courts.
Reporters asked why not wait and come back in July or August when we know more about federal funding and actual revenues.
Marsh said that the legislature has a constitutional duty to prepare budgets and that school superintendents need some certainty in how much money they will be getting so that they care prepare for the school year.
The Alabama Legislature will return on May 4.
Marsh dismissed concerns about safety expressed by one Senator, “With the state economy reopening it would be hypocrisy” for the legislature not to do its duty.
After aid to deadly rally, Republican Attorneys General Association director resigns
Alabama AG Steve Marshall leads the Rule of Law Defense Fund, which paid for robocalls promoting the rally.
The executive director of the Republican Attorneys General Association resigned Monday amid mounting criticism after the group’s policy arm, the Rule of Law Defense Fund, paid for robocalls urging people to attend the rally that resulted in a riot and deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, who heads the Rule of Law Defense Fund, in a statement Monday did not address why RAGA’s executive director, Adam Piper, resigned.
“Every decision Adam made on behalf of RLDF was with the best of intentions and with the organization’s best interests in mind,” Marshall said in a statement. “Adam leaves a void that will be difficult to replace, but we wish Adam well as he pursues other opportunities that will allow him to spend more time with his family.”
“Serving Republican attorneys general has been the honor of a lifetime and honestly a dream job,” Piper said in a statement obtained by the Associated Press.
Democratic Attorneys General Association executive director Sean Rankin in a statement to APR called for more accountability.
“The issue here was more than the robocall, and I hope what follows is a move to accountability for actions outside the bounds and for greater civility among state Attorneys General,” Rankin said in the statement.
“We will march to the Capitol building and call on Congress to stop the steal,” the robocall says, as recorded by Documented. “We are hoping patriots like you will join us to continue to fight to protect the integrity of our elections. For more information, visit MarchtoSaveAmerica.com. This call is paid for and authorized by the Rule of Law Defense Fund.”
Marshall, speaking to The Montgomery Advertiser on Monday after a press conference on human trafficking and before Piper’s resignation was announced, said the internal review is ongoing.
Asked by the Advertiser whether he felt Trump bore any responsibility for the violence at the Capitol on Wednesday, and for comment on Trump’s potential impeachment, Marshall declined to comment.
“I didn’t see anything about the rally,” Marshall said, according to the newspaper. “I don’t know anything about his remarks.”
Former RAGA chairman and current member Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton spoke at the Wednesday rally just before riots broke out, criticizing the U.S. Supreme Court, which quickly dismissed his lawsuit seeking to overturn election results in Wisconsin, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Marshall and 15 other Republican attorneys general signed on to Paxton’s failed lawsuit.
“One of the great things about the state of Texas is that we did not quit. If you look at what Georgia did, they capitulated,” Paxton told the crowd before the riots.
Prior to his resignation, Piper sent a statement to APR blaming the robocall call on staff.
“The Republican Attorneys General Association and Rule of Law Defense Fund had no involvement in the planning, sponsoring, or the organization of yesterday’s rally,” Piper said:
“No Republican AG authorized the staff’s decision to amplify a colleague speaking at the rally. Organizationally and individually, we strongly condemn and disavow the events which occurred. Yesterday was a dark day in American history and those involved in the violence and destruction of property must be prosecuted and held accountable.”
Several companies told The New York Times that they were reviewing their support of RAGA, though none said they planned to cut ties, according to the newspaper.
Cherokee Nation decided to withdraw its $150,000 contribution to the Republican Attorneys General Association on Monday, citing the robocall as inappropriate, according to News on 6, a Tulsa, Oklahoma, news station.
Sewell condemns actions, comments by Republican colleagues
Sewell called for Republican colleagues who shared in conspiracy theories over the election to be held accountable.
Congresswoman Terri Sewell, D-Alabama, in a statement to APR on Monday called out some of her Republican colleagues, specifically Congressmen Mo Brooks and Barry Moore, for what she described as their “irresponsible and inflammatory remarks” regarding the election outcome and statements made surrounding the deadly attack of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.
Rep. Barry Moore, R-Alabama, on Sunday had his personal Twitter account suspended, and then he deleted his account, after two tweets he made regarding the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol drew criticism.
“Wow we have more arrests for stealing a podium on January 6th than we do for stealing an election on November 3rd. Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Detroit, would be places I recommend you start; there is video evidence of these crimes as well! #ElectionIntegrityMatters,” Moore tweeted on Saturday.
Before his account was suspended and deleted, Moore also tweeted in reference to the death of Ashli Babbit, 35, who was shot by a Capitol Police officer when she tried to crawl through a broken window inside the Capitol during the siege.
“@mtgreenee @NARAL I understand it was a black officer that shot the white female veteran . You know that doesn’t fit the narrative,” Moore tweeted Saturday. The tweet has since been deleted, but it has been archived by Pro Publica’s Politwoops project.
At least five people, including Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, have been killed related to the siege. Another Capitol Hill police officer, Howard Liebengood, who responded to the attack, died Saturday off duty, marking the second Capitol Police officer death since Wednesday. Police did not release his cause of death.
“Since Wednesday’s violent assault at the U.S. Capitol, I have been repeatedly asked my thoughts about the actions and comments of my Alabama colleagues, especially Rep. Mo Brooks and now Rep. Barry Moore,” Sewell said in a statement to APR on Monday. “While the Alabama congressional delegation has had a history of civility, if not congeniality, irrespective of political party, I cannot let the irresponsible and inflammatory remarks of some of my colleagues go unanswered.”
She went on to say:
“It’s not okay for elected officials to continue to peddle lies and conspiracy theories about widespread voter fraud and an allegedly-stolen presidential election. President-Elect Biden won the election. There are simply no credible allegations of fraud, and upwards of 60 cases filed alleging problems with the election have been heard and dismissed by the courts. There are Trump appointed U.S. Attorneys throughout the country who were authorized by former Attorney General Bill Barr to investigate and prosecute allegations of fraud. Not one case has been filed by any of these Trump appointees.
“It is not okay for my congressional colleagues to use their public platform to incite Americans to overturn our election, storm the U.S. Capitol or assault our democracy. It’s called an insurrection and such seditious behavior must have consequences.
“It’s not okay to use racial overtones to further spread deceptive narratives that perpetuate the lie that caused last week’s violent events.
“Such lawmakers must be held accountable. Their words and actions do matter and their complicity in inciting the vicious attack on our democracy must not go unchecked. I am deeply and personally offended by the outrageous comments and every Alabamian that believes in our democracy should be, too.”
Sewell was forced to shelter inside the Capitol after Trump supporters stormed the building, prompting the evacuation of some and a barricading of others as police tried to get control of an out-of-control siege.
Moore didn’t answer APR‘s questions Sunday about those tweets directly, but his chief of staff sent APR a statement from Moore on Sunday afternoon.
“Lawlessness is not the answer to our nation’s problems, and every person who acts unlawfully is responsible for their own actions and should be held accountable to the full extent of the law, whether that’s Black Lives Matter, Antifa or Wednesday’s rioters,” Moore said in the statement.
Brooks was an early supporter of challenging the certification of election results, an action that pleased President Donald Trump and his allies seeking to overturn the election, and spoke to the crowd gathered near the Capitol before the attack.
“Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass,” Brooks yelled into his microphone. After the riots began, Brooks tweeted an unfounded rumor alleging it was antifa who started the rioting.
The day after the attack, Brooks told an Alabama conservative talk radio host that he had no regrets over his speech prior to the violence, according to The Intercept, telling the host that there was “mounting evidence of fascist antifa’s involvement in all of this.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigations said on Friday that there was no evidence of antifa aiding pro-Trump supporters in the deadly attack.
Governor sets special election dates for House District 73 races
Gov. Kay Ivey set the special primary election for March 30 and the general for July 13.
Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday set special election dates for Alabama House District 73, a seat that was held by Matt Fridy, who was elected to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals.
Ivey set the special primary election for March 30 and the special primary runoff, if necessary, for April 27. Ivey set the special general election for July 13.
“The election for House District 73 coincides with the special election for the vacant state senate seat so that we can ensure the people of Shelby County have representation,” Ivey said in a statement. “I encourage everyone in this district to get out and vote. Let’s make sure that you have a strong voice advocating for you in the Alabama Legislature.”
The qualifying deadline for candidates of major parties is Jan. 26 at 5 p.m. The deadline for all independent candidates and/or minor parties is March 30 at 5 p.m.
First Black chief clerk of the Alabama House since Reconstruction appointed
Natalyn Williams is the first Black person since at least Reconstruction to hold the position.
The clerk of the Alabama House of Representative, Jeff Woodard, announced Monday that he’s appointed Natalyn Williams as the chamber’s chief clerk.
Williams, who has served more than a decade as an executive assistant in the clerk’s office, will become the first Black person since at least Reconstruction to hold the position, which is responsible for overseeing the entire House staff.
“This is a historic day and on behalf of the entire House of Representatives, I want to offer my congratulations,” said Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia. “Ms. Williams has worked in the clerk’s office for more than 25 years and is well qualified to assume this post. I’m looking forward to working with her in the days to come.”
Williams is a native of Daphne, a graduate of Alabama State University in Montgomery and has worked in the clerk’s office since January 1994.
In addition to her supervisory duties, Williams will be in charge of ensuring House bills are processed and transmitted to the state Senate and the governor’s office in a timely manner.
Gov. Kay Ivey expressed her congratulations to Williams on Twitter.