Last week the Alabama Senate passed a $2.7 billion State General Fund budget, the largest in Alabama history. The budget passed by a vote of 29-1 with Sam Givhan (R-Huntsville) being the only senator to vote against it. It took the Senate just 30 minutes to pass the massive budget bill and four other related bills.
I’ve previously discussed the evils of unanimity in budgeting and it certainly holds true in this case.
Here is what general fund committee Chairman Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore) had to say about the budget: “While we are spending more money than we ever had, we also have more than we’ve ever spent.”
With all due respect to Senator Albritton, neither of these are things that a conservative legislator should be boasting about. Bigger doesn’t mean better when it comes to sound fiscal policy.
The general fund budget has grown by 31.2 % in the last four years. What that means in practical terms is that government has expanded by nearly a third compared to just a few years ago. As Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Reed (R-Jasper) said recently, Alabamians “just want government to stay out of their way.” Growing by a third isn’t getting out of anyone’s way, it is expanding the reach of government.
Some people will argue that budget growth is natural because of the need to keep up with inflation. But the budget growth over the past four years is not merely keeping up with inflation.
From January 2018 through January 2022 cumulative inflation, as measured by the consumer price index, was about 12%, with much of that increase coming in the last 12 months. So, even if there was a need to grow with inflation, Alabama’s general fund growth is outpacing it nearly three to one.
Moreover, to make the argument that spending should grow with inflation, you are assuming that Alabama’s government wasn’t already spending too much four years ago. And the 31.2% spending increase does not include about $4 billion in federal COVID-19 stimulus funds that have gone or will go towards general fund agencies through 2024. Given the billions in gifts from the federal government, if ever there was a time to freeze or reduce state spending, it’s now.
Back to Sen. Albritton’s comment about the state also having more money to spend than ever before. Sen. Reed echoed these comments saying, “When you got a lot of extra money in the budget, the process goes quickly.”
To reiterate, the five budget-related bills passed in less than 30 minutes. Before debate began last Thursday morning, Sen. Reed reminded his fellow senators that they would adjourn for a joint meeting of the legislature in about 90 minutes, and if the budget bills weren’t passed by then, Senators would have to come back to continue debate later in the day.
That’s not to say that Reed forced anyone to vote before they were ready, but his comments certainly didn’t help to encourage a lengthy debate before the Senate voted to spend $2.7 billion of taxpayer money.
And that’s exactly what it is. It’s your money. Anyone who pays taxes, it is your money that the legislature spends when it passes a budget or appropriations bill. The reason that the Senate “had a lot of extra money” is because government took about $1.5 billion too much from Alabamians in 2021.
Some $1 billion of that “extra money” came from income taxes, meaning that on average, individual filers paid nearly $300 more and businesses paid almost $1,600 in additional taxes. If you make more than $1 per year in Alabama, then you likely have some tax liability, meaning we all should have an interest in how much money the state takes in and how it is being spent.
Maybe $300 doesn’t sound like much to our elected leaders, but extra money in your wallet would certainly help combat the rising prices on virtually all the household items that we depend on.
There should have been a long debate before the general fund budget was passed by the Senate, but not about how to spend the money. The lengthy debate should have been about how they could take less money from you. Instead, Senators debated for a few minutes and, besides one lone voice, unanimously passed the biggest general fund budget in state history.
Another record expansion of government. Another missed opportunity to provide historic tax relief to Alabamians.
Bigger doesn’t mean better.
Justin Bogie serves as Senior Director of Fiscal Policy at the Alabama Policy Institute. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to: [email protected].