The 2023 legislative session is primed for a quick jump into a heavy agenda starting today. Lawmakers will gavel in at noon and welcome a freshman class of 35 members.
Among the items immediately up for discussion include an imminent special session around the delineation of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, a regular session packed with budget talks and a renewal push for the economic incentives set to expire by design later this year.
Yellowhammer News spoke with Speaker of the House Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) who said his caucus is, “fired up and ready to go.”
On the prospect of Gov. Kay Ivey calling a special session for ARPA funds, the speaker said, “We’ll probably hear (tonight) that we will be coming into a special session.”
He pointed to the fact this process has been an ongoing collaboration between the executive and legislative branch, saying the governor and lawmakers have “done a really good job.”
In particular, he said top priorities include broadband, water and sewer, as well as healthcare funding measures that were hit by COVID, such as “hospitals, nursing homes and mental health.”
“The biggest traunch of the money is going for water and sewer and for broadband,” the speaker said.
When it comes to regular session budget process, he said. “When I first came in, in ’14, we didn’t have enough money to pay our bills, so we’ve certainly come a long way from here.”
“The conservative budgeting process is the reason we’re where we’re at today. The growth of our economy – Alabama’s economy is one of the fastest growing economies in the southeast right now. And I think that has got a lot to do with the process of the past two years and what the legislative body has done, along with the executive branch.”
Among the topics that will be embraced by lawmakers early on, he said education will come to the forefront, “immediately.” With education expected to be a predominant theme in the State of the State address Tuesday, Ledbetter said Ivey shares a priority of improving education, pointing to the Literacy Act and Numeracy Act, passed in 2022.
“I’ve talked to the education policy chair, I’ve talked to the budget chair, I think they’ve already got some good ideas.”
Economic incentives renewal
On the topic of renewing the package of economic incentives passed initially in 2015, the speaker said there is an urgency to expand to stay competitive, citing bipartisan support. Particularly when it comes to business recruitment, workforce and sites.
“There’s no question in my mind, Alabama in the last few years has seen job growth over 65,000 jobs, over $40 billion invested into our state. The numbers show a good part of that has been from these incentives,” he said.
“What’s impressive to me is our return on the money we put in, we get back 173%. There’s no business that can do that. So I think we’ll see an expansion on it. The sunset period will probably go a little bit longer this time. There’s a chance we will increase the amount.”
The number of sites available in Alabama for a company to build on has narrowed to record lows as large projects have begun across the state. “Another thing we’ve really got to focus on in Alabama is megasites so we can locate plants. That’s important. We’ll have that in the bill as well.
“The sunset helps us evaluate where we’re at, we see what progress we’ve made – but it also gives us a chance to tweak it and make it better.”
All told – with both the general fund budget and education trust fund in surplus, Ivey laying out her agenda in tonight’s State of the State address, and a long list of funding measures awaiting decision from lawmakers – this session is expected to be consequential.
“I’m excited about where we’re at,” Ledbetter said.