On Wednesday, the Alabama Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund committee voted to advance the fiscal year 2023 State General Fund budget (SGF). Preparing the two state budgets (the other is the education budget) is the primary function of the annual regular legislative session. 

Senate Bill 106 (SB106) is sponsored by State Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore) who chairs the committee.

The budget was substituted in committee on Wednesday. The new budget appropriates $2,696,828,354 in FY2023, which begins on Oct. 1. This is $21,377,000 less than Gov. Kay Ivey’s (R) budget request. There are however $40 million and $3,500,000 in conditional appropriations for the Alabama Department of Corrections facility maintenance account and the State Port Authority, respectively, if funds are available. This is the largest SGF in state history.

“One of the first things I would like to highlight on this is that when we were broke, we passed a Constitutional amendment to allow us to borrow from the [Alabama Trust Fund] ATF,” to fund post-Great Recession SGF budgets Albritton said. “And we borrowed a chunk of change.

“We have been paying that back at $13 million a year. This bill pays that off completely. When we took that the Alabama Trust Fund, which is money collected from oil and natural gas receipts, was at $2.6 billion. When we pay this off the ATF will be something like $3.4 billion. We are going to make this right. We are taking $150 million to pay off the ATF.”

Albritton said this budget is something lawmakers should be proud of.

“In 2020 we passed a bill with a provision to set up a reserve account for the general fund,” Albritton said. “We have been paying into that for the past two years. We will put in the maximum amount of money into that this year so we will have $100 million into that reserve account.

Regarding the two mega prisons authorized in the 2021 special session on prisons, “If dirt is not flying now, it will be soon,” Albritton said. “There was a concern that we would do what we always do and not maintain the prisons once they were up. We set up a maintenance fund for the prisons. There is $30 million in the supplemental appropriation for the maintenance program plus $1.9 million in this budget.”

Albritton said that this budget includes a 4% cost of living allowance (COLA) for state employees.

“Yesterday we passed bonuses for the state retirees and education retirees,” Albritton continued.

Albritton said that there is more money in this budget for mental health.

“We cannot meet all of the needs for mental health in the state,” Albritton said. “This funds two new crisis centers.

“Medicaid funding for this year is $1 billion. We have increased the funding [by] $20 million this year.”

Albritton said that this budget provides funding for a new forensic lab for the Department of Forensics.

“We are trying to serve the people in the best fiscal way possible and it seems to be working,” Albritton said.

Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) said, “I am so moved that I am ready to make a favorable report.”

Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) said, “Each year we have transferred $28 million from ALDOT to ALEA.”

ALDOT is the Alabama Department of Transportation and ALEA is the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. ALDOT receives its money from fuel taxes which go to the road and bridge fund – which is outside of the general fund. ALEA is funded by the general fund, but also takes $28 million a year in fuel taxes to fund its cost of policing state highways.

“The Mobile Bridge, there is going to be a huge debt with that,” Allen said. “ALDOT has taken on two huge projects and the debt service is going to be huge.”

Albritton said that the legislature has already ended the $34 million a year that was going to the court system out of the roads and bridges and paid for that.

Sen. Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) said, “I know we have passed a database bill that will cost $3.5 million on ALEA. When can we expect that to be funded?"

“We have given them a boost, but we have not earmarked it,” for the database of persons prohibited from possessing firearms, Albritton answered.

“If you don’t earmark it that could be spent on anything,” Singleton said. “I see $30,000 for a north Alabama foodbank, $30,000 for an east Alabama foodbank, and $30,000 for a south Alabama foodbank; but I don’t see any money for a west Alabama foodbank. I want equity for my people. Our folks are hungry too. I know it is small but I want my $30,000 too.”

Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison (D-Birmingham) said, “I don’t see any money for a central Alabama food bank.”

Albritton said that he would “look at setting up a grant program” that food banks can apply for.

Albritton was asked about funding mental health.

“I think we have funded mental health all that we can in this budget,” Albritton said. “We have increased their funding. We have added two crisis centers and increased mental health workers. We are trying to put it all together, but we can’t do it all right now.”

Albritton said the Department of Mental Health is losing mental health personnel to education where the schools are hiring mental health coordinators and other mental health personnel.

“We are being cannibalized from one side to another,” Albritton said.

Sen. Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville) said, “We have finished a decade in Alabama without proration. That is a tribute to you and to previous general fund budget chairmen. Well done and I appreciate how you have taken the state forward while still tending to the citizens' needs.”

“Arthur Orr was here, Greg Reed was here, Trip Pittman of all people was here,” Albritton said of past Republican general fund chairmen. “I am just living off of the largesse.”

The committee voted to give the bill a favorable report.

To read the latest budget spreadsheet https://www.legislature.state.al.us/pdf/lsa/Fiscal/FY2023/SGF/SGF-FY23-FTG-sub.pdf

Education will be addressed in the education trust fund budget (ETF) which has not been voted on in committee yet.

The SGF could be voted on by the full Senate as early as Thursday.

Thursday will be day 15, the midpoint, of the 2022 Alabama Regular Legislative Session.

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email [email protected].