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Proposed 2021 General Fund budget has $167 million increase

A view of the Alabama Statehouse on South Union Street in Montgomery, Alabama. (STOCK PHOTO)

The Alabama legislature returns to Montgomery Monday to finish the 2020 regular legislative session and work on the state General Fund and Education Trust Fund budgets.

The first item to be considered will be the SGF.

The 2020 SGF budget was $2,222 million. The proposed 2021 budget is $2,389 million — a $167.3 million increase in spending. This is despite the economic collapse the state is experiencing as a result of the forced economic shutdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The 2020 legislative session has effectively been on hold since March 12.

The legislature left with 14 legislative days to go on a two-week spring vacation. They returned on March 28 to find the state and nation under a forced economic shutdown. Due to the risk to the legislators and Gov. Kay Ivey’s stay-at-home order, the legislators shelved all legislation but the budgets and their local bills.

The proposed SGF budget level funds most state agencies, but there are some notable changes.

The Alabama Department of Mental Health got a budget increase of $25,922,733 to $128,337,324 in 2021. $18 million of this is for the governor’s new crisis diversion centers. It is an attempt to keep the mentally ill from being jailed as frequently.

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The Department of Senior Services received an increase of $1,208,268 to $31,037,415. This is to help the Department deal with the cost of delivering meals to vulnerable seniors due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The Alabama Oil and Gas Board is receiving a $250,000 budget increase to $2,858,388 250,000.

The Alabama Pardons and Paroles Board will lose $21 million to $27,872,269. The agency did not spend all of their 2019 money so rolled $21 million from 2020 to 2021. The proposed budget strips them of that saved money.

The Alabama Department of Labor is receiving a $250,000 budget increase to $1,288,129. Due to the COVID-19 forced economic collapse the Department is handling far more unemployment applications than anyone anticipated.
The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency is receiving a $3,877,748 increase to $63,368,872 largely to put more state troopers on Alabama roads.

The largest increase went to the Alabama Medicaid Agency, which received a $94,355,712 increase to $820,018,371. The largest part of that is because the federal government has shifted more of the burden for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to the states.

The Alabama Department of Human Resources is receiving a $4,616,496 increase to $80,726,812. The largest part of this is to fund the Alabama Network of Family Resource Centers $1,575,000.

The Alabama Commission on Indian Affairs is receiving a $4,400 increase to $114,294.

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The Alabama Historical Commission is receiving a $610,000 increase to $3,269,993.

The Governor’s Office of Volunteer Services is a new line item receiving $115,000.

The Alabama Department of Public Health is receiving a hefty $35,334,356 increase to $106,482,787. The largest part of that is for their share of the CHIP cost $25,771,374.

The Geological Survey is receiving $3,668,780 256, a $256,000 increase.

The Governor’s Mansion Authority is receiving a $75,823 increase to $375,000.

The Emergency Management Agency is receiving a $420,000 increase to $5,930,925.

The State Finance Department is receiving a $100,000 increase to $5,044,167/

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The Department of Forensic Sciences is receiving an increase of $303,991 to $15,480,141.

The Alabama Forestry Commission is receiving a $1,250,000 increase to $9,979,843.
The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) received a $3,580,728 decrease to $17,560,296.

The Alabama District Attorneys are level funded. Many of the DAs claim that they have been seriously harmed by the economic shutdown which has made it much harder for them to collect the fees and fines that fund much of their office expenses.

The Alabama Department of Corrections received a $23,258,325 increase to $544,148,167.

Medicaid and Corrections are the two most expensive programs in the general fund. Roads and education are funded outside of the SGF.

The state is having to spend $971,576 more for debt service costs in this budget than in 2020.

The State Auditor’s office is receiving a 47 percent decrease to just $500,000.

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State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) says “this further cut would make the state property inventory system inoperable.”

Sources say that the massive cut to the Auditor’s office is political payback for Zeigler opposing the gas tax increase last year and for leading the opposition against the costly toll bridge over the Mobile River.

There are also a number of conditional line items for a variety of capital improvement if there is sufficient revenue. The COVID-19 situation and whether or not the state will receive a federal bailout package has made the state revenues moving forward very much in doubt.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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