Alabama Senate committee approves $3 billion General Fund budget

By: - May 25, 2023 6:55 am
A man in glasses leans forward.

Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, the chair of the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee, listens to a budget presentation from the Alabama Community College System on March 7, 2023. The presentation came on the first day of the Alabama Legislature’s 2023 regular session. (Brian Lyman/Alabama Reflector)

The Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee Wednesday approved a $3 billion General Fund budget, setting it up for a vote in the chamber as early as Thursday.

The proposal is slightly smaller than the House version of the General Fund, passed on April 26, but would be about $162 million larger than the General Fund approved last year, a 5.6% increase.

“We have got a lot of obligations out there that are coming due,” said Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, the chair of the committee, the chair of the committee. “Most of it in the form of construction overruns, whether that be schools, whether that be the ARPA (American Rescue Plan) money for water and sewer lines, whether that be for other constructions, mental health and also prisons. We are already committed to those, and yet we know that inflation is going to eat that amount up. We have got to be prepared for that.”

The budget includes a 2% pay raise for state employees and mostly retains House-approved increases to state agencies.

The Alabama Medicaid Agency General Fund share would go up $69.5 million, from $793.5 million to $863 million (an 8.8% increase). The Department of Corrections got an increase of $58.8 million, from $602 million to $661.7 million (a 9.8% increase). Both were left unchanged from the House version.

The budget for the Department of Human Resources, at $121.8 million was left unchanged from what it was in the House. THe department will get $400,000 more than in the current fiscal year.

The Senate committee increased the allocation for the Alabama Department of Mental Health by $1.1 million over the House version, bringing it to $210 million, a $16.5 million (8.5%) increase over its current $193 million budget.

“Part of that was to make up for the House version of the supplemental that had $23 million for the renovation costs of Taylor Hardin, which did not survive in our supplement,” Albritton said. “To make up for that somewhat, that request was increased on the backside of the General Fund, to make up for some of that.”

The Senate significantly cut back a House increase for the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA). ALEA, which is budgeted to receive $82.5 million this year, got $112.1 million under the House version of the budget, a $26.6 million (36%) increase. The Senate pulled the allocation back to $90.9 million, a 10.1% increase.

Albritton disputes that, saying that ALEA will get a similar funding as it had in the past.

“We have traditionally been putting money from DOT (Department of Transportation) into ALEA, and that is $23 million,” he said. “That is what normally has happened. This year, they did not do that change, but I have put it back to the way that we have been doing it.”

The Senate also increased an allocation for the Alabama Crime Victims Compensation Commission from $500,000 to $1.5 million. The commission, which provides financial assistance to victims of violent crime and their families, has struggled with funding and staffing shortfalls in recent years that has delayed payments to victims.

“First off, we said yes to crime victims,” Albritton said. “They have had lots of expenses. Crime is up. They came to us and said, ‘we need some help.’ We boosted that substantially, so I hope that will help. I don’t know that we were able to help all the way, but we substantially improved that.”

The commission had requested $5 million.

“Obviously we are grateful for anything that we get,” said Everette Johnson in an interview after the meeting. “We are disappointed that we are out of special appropriations, and we will continue to work to try and get some funding for that.”

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Ralph Chapoco
Ralph Chapoco

Ralph Chapoco covers state politics as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. His main responsibility is the criminal justice system in Alabama.