It took a few hours for the Houses to concur on a budget Thursday night, but the final $11.5 billion historic budget doesn’t look too much different than its last appearance in the House.
The House passed its version of the package earlier in the day Thursday, with only Rep. Tracy Estes voting no against the supplemental package due to $100 million for prison education.
Estes said the prisons have become “a dark hole” for money and he couldn’t justify taking $100 million from the Education Trust Fund for more prison expenses.
Despite his objections, that wasn’t one of the changes in the final version of the budget.
In the primary budget, only a few language changes were made in conference committee that do not immediately appear to make any substantial difference to what was last reported on that bill out of the House.
The supplemental did have some changes, the most significant of which was a compromise on the tax rebate, freeing up more than $150 million to restore some of the Senate’s requests either partially or fully.
Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, told members of the House on the floor Thursday night that the House did not lose any of the projects it had approved under the supplemental appropriation budget.
The final budget added $75 million back to the k-12 capital grant program under the Lt. Governor’s Office. The Senate had initially appropriated $180 million to the program, and the House cut it to $104 million to make room for the rebates. That appropriation restores the program to it’s full funding proposed by the Senate.
The final budget also adds $75 million back to the new educational opportunities “saving account” under the rolling reserve, representing another compromise between the House and Senate. The House cut the account down from the Senate’s proposed $500 million to $279 million. Under the law, the account cannot be sued for budgetary purposes until it hits $300 million. With the additional $75 million added in, it could be triggered immediately.
As it has throughout the course of the discussion, the budget includes a 2 percent pay raise for K-12 teachers.
The final budget also saw compromises on a few smaller issues
A $5 million long-Covid study that had been completely struck from the House’s version of the bill, with Garrett noting that UAB is also doing a long-covid study, reappeared in the budget at $2.5 million.