The House Ways and Means General Fund Committee passed the state General Fund budget on Wednesday. On Thursday, Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, said that the General Fund budget will be the first thing that the House does when it returns to Montgomery on Tuesday for day 13 of the 2021 Legislative Session.
McCutcheon said that the House rules committee will prepare a second special order calendar if they can finish the budget in a timely manner.
The House Ways and Means Committee version of the state General Fund budget is $2,472,266,921 for fiscal year 2022. That is an increase of $78,994,058 from the fiscal year 2021 budget. The 2022 fiscal year begins after September 30. This will be the largest state General Fund budget in the history of the state of Alabama.
The additional money for the General Fund budget is likely still not enough to address all of the pressing needs that the state has. Nowhere does the state of Alabama have a greater need than in its prison system, which is facing a U.S. Justice Department lawsuit for civil rights violations as well as another lawsuit that is already pending in federal court.
The Alabama Department of Corrections is receiving a $26,327,268 increase in funding for 2022 over 2021. That $570,475,435 budget amount is fully what the governor requested in her budget. The prisons have long been neglected by the state of Alabama. Ivey is expected to enter into a lease-build agreement with two private consortiums to build new prisons that the state would lease for the next 30 years.
The Bureau of Pardons and Paroles received the biggest increase. The agency is receiving a $30,831,475 increase in 2022 to take their budget to $58,703,744. Part of that massive increase is an anomaly since Pardons and Paroles had unspent money from their 2020 budget. That money was taken from them and applied to their 2021 budget, meaning that their 2021 line item was smaller than in years past.
The problems with the prisons are more than money. A federal judge has ruled that the state needs 2,000 more prison guards. Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, said on Thursday that the state has been trying for two years to hire more prison guards and can’t.
Mental health is another area where a department is getting an overdue increase. The Alabama Department of Mental Health is receiving a $10,462,975 increase from 2021 to take their budget to $165,223,032.
“We have been trying to hire mental health professionals and can’t,” Albritton said. “People leave mental health to work for education for higher pay.”
On Thursday, the Senate passed SJR55, which Albritton said would create a study commission to study how the state renumerates its employees.
“The state spends millions and millions of dollars in bonuses and yet our retention rate is very low,” he said.
The Department of Mental Health was awarded a $46 million conditional appropriation in the 2021 budget for one-time capital projects. That money is set to be released.
The Alabama Department of Human Resources received a $5,000,000 boost to raise their general fund line item appropriation to $85,726,812.
State employees will get a 2 percent raise that will cost the General Fund budget $13,600,000.
The Alabama Judicial System is receiving a $4,585,202 increase in its 2022 budget. As the state has grown in population, the courts have not kept up, leading to a growing backlog of cases for the state’s judges — a backlog that has only gotten worse as the COVID-19 pandemic led to courthouses closing for weeks and many courts unable to safely hold jury trials.
Chief Justice Tom Parker said, “We need 21 circuit court judges, now.”
Of the increased funding for the courts, just $2,137,625 is budgeted for the Unified Judicial System. The House recently passed legislation to bring back retired judges on a part-time basis to deal with the backlog.
Other budget notes include:
- The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency is receiving a $7,900,000 increase from 2021 to $71,268,872.
- The Department of Agriculture and Industries is receiving a $4,489,000 increase from 2021 to $19,476,264.
- The budget has $2,500,000 for a new line item: the Office of Information Technology.
- The Alabama Trust Fund Board received just $8,265 in 2021. The House is increasing that by $13,500,000. That money will go to the Alabama Trust Fund to generate interest income for future General Fund budgets.
- The Legislature is increasing its own budget by $4,000,000 to $24,886,729.
- The Department of Senior Services is seeing an increase of $1,962,585 to $33,000,000.
- The Office of Examiner of Public Accounts is receiving an increase of $1,081,719 to $9,562,465 for 2022.
- The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs received a $2,000,000 increase to $20,981,296 in the House Ways and Means Committee budget for 2022.
- The Alabama Forestry Commission is receiving a $2,000,000 boost in funding to $12,362,933 in the 2022 budget.
- The Governor’s Office is receiving a $1,000,000 increase for 2022 to take their General Fund budget line item to $4,045,254.
- District attorneys would receive a $500,000 increase to $35,142,507.
- The Geological Survey is receiving an increase of $309,356 to $3,978,136 in 2022.
- The Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences received a $285,191 budget increase to $15,765,332.
- The Alabama Department of Commerce receives a $245,000 increase raising their general fund budget appropriation to $6,474,442.
- The Alabama Department of Emergency Management received a $238,857 increase to $6,169,782.
- The Governor’s Mansion Authority receives a $225,000 increase in 2022 to raise their budget to $600,000.
- The Office of the State Auditor would receive a $96,828 increase to $950,000 in the House budget. The auditor’s budget was dramatically slashed when Robert Bentley was governor. This restores some of the money that the auditor’s office has lost in recent years.
Many agencies in the state are level funded. Some line items in the budget were even cut. The Alabama Department of Public Health was cut $4,246,186 from 2021 to $102,236,601 in 2022.
The most expensive program in the General Fund budget is Alabama Medicaid, but it is taking a cut of $51,018, 371 in this budget, dropping its share of the General Fund budget down to $769,000,000.
The General Fund budget will be carried on the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives by House Ways and Means General Fund Committee Chairman Steve Clouse, R-Ozark.
On Thursday, Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, who chairs the Senate Finance and Taxation notified senators that that day was the last day to contact him about the Education Trust Fund budget.
Senate Majority Leader Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville, said that both budgets will be passed out of their chambers of origin in the next two weeks.
Tuesday will be day 13 of the 2021 Legislative Session. The latest version of the General Fund budget is available here.