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Alabama general fund budget bill heading to conference committee

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate on Tuesday afternoon passed the general fund bill for Fiscal Year 2020 as substituted and amended. Hours later, the House voted to nonconcur with the Senate-passed version of the bill, sending the important legislation to a conference committee.

HB 152 as passed by the Senate would fully fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) at $35,000,000 total.

The governor had proposed CHIP to be solely funded out of the Education Trust Fund this time around, even though it has been paid for by the general fund in the past. Neither the House-passed version of the general fund bill nor the Senate-passed version of the education budget funded CHIP.

The Senate passed its version of HB 152 on a bipartisan 30-0 vote.

This bill set aside an additional $7 million for the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) to hire 50 new state troopers, increases the Alabama Department of Corrections’ budget by $46 million and includes a 2% cost-of-living adjustment for state employees.

In a statement, the chairman of the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee explained the highlights of the bill.

“This budget funds the essential functions of state government and avoids any tax increases,” State Senator Greg Albritton (R-Atmore) outlined. “We put a priority on public safety, with the increase for additional troopers on the road and more correctional officers at state prisons. We were able to fund everything that we needed to, but we didn’t spend every single dime available — that carryover money will help for next year, when the state will have to bear the entire burden for CHIPS, the health insurance program for children in low-income homes.”

The House has assigned State Reps. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark), Kyle South (R-Fayette) and Laura Hall (D-Huntsville) to the conference committee, in which three legislators from each chamber will work to reconcile the two different versions of the general fund budget bill. Clouse is the chairman of the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee.

“I look forward to working with the House leadership on a final version. I anticipate there will be some changes as we negotiate later this week, but with this budget that passed today, I think we have hammered out an agreement on the biggest issues,” Albritton emphasized.

The 2% cost-of-living-adjustment for state employees is only the second that state employees have received since 2008.

“I want to thank Senator Albritton for his hard work — as this budget illustrates, Republicans in the State Legislature remain committed to fiscal discipline. Since 2011, we have cut the state government workforce by 14%, saving taxpayers millions of dollars,” Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper) remarked.

You can view spreadsheets comparing all versions of both the general fund budget and education budget here.

The education budget will be amended in the House Ways and Means Education Committee on Wednesday.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn