That’s how the Alabama Legislature voted last week on a bill to allocate the remaining $772 million from the first half of Alabama’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. Another $1 billion will come to the state later this year.
It is amazing that with so much money at stake, there was only one legislator that felt compelled to vote 'no' on the legislation. One conclusion that can be drawn is that everyone was happy with it because they, or hopefully their constituents, would see benefits from it. You might also conclude that not a single member of the legislature took issue with the fact that none of the money will be used to lower the tax burden of Alabama’s citizens and businesses.
Juandalynn Givan (D-Birmingham), the lone 'no' vote, didn’t vote against the package because of the lack of tax relief. Rather, she pointed to the lack of funding for child care or housing assistance in her dissent.
While some will tout the fact that lawmakers were able to achieve broad bipartisan support, unanimity is rarely a good thing when it comes to policy decisions. Especially when we are talking about how government is spending your - the taxpayer's - money.
Alabama’s Republican Party took control of the legislature in 2010. Republicans now hold all statewide elected executive branch positions as well as eight of nine seats in Alabama’s congressional delegation.
You get the point. Alabama is a Conservative state and Republicans are clearly in control of its government. But if that is the case, then why the nearly unanimous vote on the ARPA spending bill? Why did 31 of 32 Democrats side with Republicans? The answer is that the allocation of the ARPA funds did not follow Conservative principles.
For example, the bill allocated over $275 million for broadband expansion within the state. Most people agree that improving broadband capability is important to the future of business, education, and work in Alabama. But all of this money will flow through the state Department of Economic and Community Affairs, meaning government will choose the winners and losers when doling out broadband funding. Another $225 million aimed at improving access to clean water will be controlled by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.
At the federal level, rarely is any decision, let alone a spending decision, made unanimously. Take as an example Congress’ votes on the American Rescue Plan Act that sent all this money to Alabama in the first place. As a reminder, Democrats currently control Congress and the White House. The Senate vote on the bill was 50-49. The House vote on final passage was 220-211. Out of 530 votes cast, not one Republican joined Democrats in supporting ARPA. Only one Democrat broke party ranks to vote against it.
It is hard to think of a time in recent memory when much of anything Congress voted on was close to being unanimous. Republicans and Democrats have divergent principles and priorities. They rarely align.
When one party has total control, votes on any matter of substance should never be unanimous. The majority party sets the agenda. In Alabama, that means that legislation should reflect Conservative policy principles. If that is what Alabama lawmakers were doing, few if any Democrats would support it.
Unanimous approval of the ARPA funding bills also leads you to wonder what will happen as the legislature begins consideration of the state’s General Fund and Education Trust Fund budgets in the coming weeks.
In each of the previous three years of the current legislative quadrennium, lawmakers have enacted record-high spending. That is six budgets that the legislature has had the opportunity to vote on. There was a total of four 'no' votes on all of those budgets and each of those 'no' votes were cast by one legislator, Andrew Sorrell (R-Muscle Shoals).
Does that make sense in a state where most citizens want and expect fiscally conservative budgeting?
Unless more Republicans are willing to defend the Conservative principles they were elected on and that helped secure their supermajority in 2018, it will likely mean another year of near-unanimous support for record spending and taking more money from Alabamians.
Maybe it’s time for voters to remind lawmakers who is in charge.
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: Commentary@1819News.com.