MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Partisanship has taken a backseat to regional politics in the Alabama State House, with south Alabama lawmakers banding together to fight the rest of the state over the remaining BP Oil Spill money.
With Medicaid facing a perpetual funding shortfall, the House almost two weeks ago passed a bill that would use BP money to pay back $448.5 million in state debt, immediately free up about $35 million for Medicaid, and send the rest of the money — about $191 million — to the coast for road projects.
The bill sat on the legislative back-burner as the House and Senate wrestled with numerous lottery proposals, but re-emerged Tuesday as lawmakers faced the possibility of adjourning the Special Session without addressing the Medicaid issue.
The Senate passed a bill that would send $300 million of the BP money to Medicaid over the next three years — presumably buying the legislature time to work out a longer-term plan — then send the rest of the funds toward paying down debt, completely stripping out all funding for south Alabama road projects.
The House unanimously voted against the Senate plan, prompting legislative leaders to create a conference committee to reconcile the differences between the two chambers. The conference committee will consist of three House members and three Senate members, who will seek to come to an agreement that can pass both chambers.
It will be a tall order.
Sens. Trip Pittman (R-Montrose), Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) and Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville) will be joined on the conference committee by Reps. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark), Danny Garrett (R-Trussville) and John Knight (D-Montgomery).
One lobbyist Yellowhammer spoke with Tuesday evening put the odds of a stalemate at about 50 percent, with the House dug in on earmarking money for coastal infrastructure projects and the Senate opposed.
Senator Slade Blackwell (R-Mountain Brook) seemed to sum up the perspective of many non-South Alabama legislators when he told ABC 33/40 he believes it’s “more important to help disable children verse sending more money to Mobile and Baldwin county after they have already received over $2.1 billion is BP settlement money.”
“The citizens of Mobile and Baldwin County suffered from that oil spill,” Sen. Vivian Davis Figure (D-Mobile) said on the other side. “They did the suffering.”
The conference committee will meet Wednesday morning at 9 a.m., with both chambers reconvening an hour later.