MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives voted on Thursday to approve the Education Trust Fund (ETF) supplemental appropriations conference substitute, but not before several lawmakers followed a session trend of blasting the Senate for its failure to pass gambling legislation.

The Alabama Legislature met on Thursday for the final day of the 2024 legislative session. In the culmination of significant tensions between the House and Senate, lawmakers in the House did not waste the opportunity to blast the Senate for failing to advance a comprehensive gambling package last week, using debate on the ETF budget to criticize the Senate’s actions.

State Rep. Danny Garrett (R-Trussville) brought the ETF supplemental appropriations legislation, which emerged from a conference committee after both bodies met to hammer out details.

The appropriations bill changed very slightly in the committee substitute.

The Senate version did not reduce any item added by the House except 9 million in some capital investment.

The appropriations bill had minimal changes, except for removing a $5 million appropriation from the retiree trust fund added by the Senate.

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) objected to removing retirement trust fund funding.

“There are a lot of things that we are funding that, I don’t see us getting a return on any of the things that we’re funding,” Daniels said. But these people have put their hard-earned work, they’ve put their health and their lives on the line for all these years, and we’re not showing any appreciation. I’m just sick and tired of us flirting with them every year, telling them that we’re going to do something for them next year, next year, next year.”

Garrett responded that the meager $5 million appropriation would not be enough to impact the state’s retirees significantly.

“What I think the retirees want is a true COLA [Cost of Living Adjustment],” Garrett said. "A COLA that would say, for example,  if I retired 20 years ago and my benefit was $1,000, that today I need $2,000; I think that’s what they really want. And I’m going to go through the numbers and show you how that really is not something that we can afford to do.”

State Rep. Chris Blackshear (R-Phenix City), the sponsor of the gambling package, took the podium to bemoan its failure, stating that gambling revenue could have provided adequate money for the state retirees.

“Is it safe for me to say you tried to, I guess, throw a little bone, as you would say on the streets, to the retirees?" Blackshear asked. “But, at the end of the day, when you voted and people in these bodies voted no on a gaming legislation that was a new piece of funding, that was hurting retirees potentially as well too because I completely eliminated that new revenue stream source. Would that be safe to say?”

Garrett responded, “The gaming legislation did provide for a potential revenue stream to fund the retiree trust fund.”  

“So it’s been 25 years since we let our retirees vote [on gambling], so every time we tell them no to allowing them to vote we’re telling them no to giving them additional revenue; funds in their pocket," Blackshear outlined. "Because we had a source of revenue, this body passed it twice, a new source of revenue. It frustrates me when we have colleagues that we work with – not in this body, we did our job, and I’m very appreciative of it – that think every four years when they send us to this house to represent our people and our constituents is the best decision they ever make. But why don’t we think they can make a good decision on anything else?”

"You had an opportunity for them right now to make a decision on If they wanted to fund retirees, if they wanted to fund the retired state workers, if they wanted to fund scholarships, if they wanted additional roads, if they wanted rural health care, if they wanted ambulatory care and they said no. So don’t pour something on my leg and tell me it’s rain," he added.

The House passed the supplemental appropriations legislation but recessed at the call of the chair before passing the full ETF budget, likely as last-minute gamesmanship to bolster negotiations with the Senate.

Some House lawmakers suggested delaying the vote on the ETF budget bills until after the session, which could force a special session and possibly another vote on the gambling package.

“The key ticket to it has, was, has, and is the gambling bill or the lottery; the gambling and the lottery,” said State Rep. Brett Easterbrook (R-Fruitdale). “We have talked about this and kicked this can down the road for years and years and years.”

He continued, “I think it’s time we fixed this problem. I would like to see this bill carried over, let the governor call a special session, and make us fix this problem.”

State Rep. Mary Moore (D-Birmingham) also suggested using the education budget as a bargaining chip to induce the Senate to pass gambling.

“If we just hold it instead of doing it next, and just hold on to it and then tell the Senate that that funding that we need to help our retirees is included In that lottery bill that we sent back up there and maybe we could put some pressure on them,” Moore said.  

“This House bows down to the Senate too often. I’ve been here over 20 years, and we’ve always done it; we bow down to them. And every time we bow down and let the Senate have its way, we hurt so many citizens in the state of Alabama,” she continued.

The appropriations bill passed 98-1. The House must still pass the full ETF budget, and the Senate will have to follow suit before both bills can go to Gov. Kay Ivey’s desk for a signature.  

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