Ivey to allow legislature to spend ‘every single penny’ of State stimulus funds
MONTGOMERY — Governor Kay Ivey on Thursday announced that she is willing to abdicate control over spending the approximately $1.8 billion in federal stimulus money made available to the State of Alabama through the CARES Act.
That federal legislation designated all spending authority to the respective governor of each state, however the Alabama legislature has expressed its desire to have involvement in at least some of the funds being spent.
The Senate initially proposed instituting a three-person panel (one of which would have been the governor) to spend the funds, however that has since morphed into the legislature’s General Fund budget package stating that the governor would have the authority to spend up to $600 million — about one-third — of the total amount.
Ivey issued her statement at 1:50 p.m. CT on Thursday, as the General Fund budget package was being considered on the floor of the House.
“I just got off the phone with House General Fund Chairman Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, and expressed to him my desire for the Legislature to have full control of the CARES Act appropriation, every single penny,” Ivey began.
“I made it clear to Chairman Clouse that this money belongs to the people of Alabama, not the Governor and, in my opinion, not even the Legislature,” she continued. “It comes to us in an emergency appropriation from President Trump and Congress to support the ongoing crisis that has killed 349 Alabamians, as of this moment, and wreaked havoc on our state’s economy, ruining small businesses and costing more than 430,000 Alabamians a job they had just a few weeks ago.”
Sources from both chambers of the legislature earlier in the day told Yellowhammer News that the governor was threatening to veto the budgets over how the CARES Act funding was to be spent by the State, but Ivey’s press secretary in an email (just over one hour before the governor’s statement was released) denied that had occurred.
“I have never desired to control a single penny of this money and if the Legislature feels so strongly that they should have that authority, I yield to them both the money and the responsibility to make good decisions – in the light of day where the people of Alabama know what is happening,” Ivey said in her statement.
“I promised Chairman Clouse that my Administration will send over to the Legislature the receipts for items such as PPE, medical supplies, testing kits and the like; items that have been needed and procured to support our health care system including our hospitals and nursing homes,” she advised. “I trust the Legislature will honor these expenses.”
Ivey then proceeded to lament that the legislature’s involvement could slow down money being spent.
“We have heard from countless cities and counties who are suffering from the effects of this pandemic; we’ve heard from colleges and universities, the K-12 system and a whole host of others who had hoped this money would be made available in a timely fashion. Regretfully, because of the Legislature’s decision – at this last moment – these groups will now have to appeal to the 140 members for help,” Ivey stated.
“Finally, I advised Chairman Clouse that I will not call the Legislature back into a Special Session unless and until they provide the people of Alabama – in advance – a full, detailed and public list of how the money will be spent in exact amounts, down to the penny. I have already seen one ‘wish list’ that includes a new $200 million statehouse for the Legislature. To me, that is totally unacceptable and not how President Trump and Congress intended for this money to be spent,” Ivey added.
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) has publicly advised that he wants up to $800 million of the stimulus funds to go towards expanding broadband access across Alabama. It has been explained by him and leaders such as Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper) that the pandemic has exposed the “digital divide” in the state even more, with the temporary new normal highlighting the importance of high-speed internet access for telemedicine, education and working from home.
“As everyone knows, we are in the middle of an international health crisis, unlike any we have ever seen. It is both fiscally responsible – and absolutely essential – that the Legislature be transparent on the way they intend to spend this money. In my view, it has always belonged to the people of Alabama,” concluded Ivey. “We look forward to seeing their proposed budget. It is obvious the Legislature has more work to do.”
UPDATE 3:45 p.m.
A spokesperson for the Senate majority confirmed to Yellowhammer News the existence and authenticity of the “wish list” referenced by Ivey. That list was published first on Twitter by Alabama Daily News. The list was compiled upon the request of the governor’s finance director.
In a statement to Yellowhammer News, Marsh reacted to the governor’s statement.
“We appreciate the Governor adhering to the Alabama Constitution on how taxpayer dollars are appropriated,” Marsh stated. “Although it is surprising that anybody expected to have sole discretion on how this money would be spent without public input and oversight. We look forward to working with Governor Ivey and her team as we reopen Alabama for business, put people back to work, and get money from the CARES Act into the hands of those who need it the most.”
UPDATE 3:55 p.m.
SB 161, part of the General Fund budget package, was amended by the House on Thursday afternoon. The legislation now allows Ivey to spend up to $200 million of the CARES Act funding. House Ways and Means General Fund Chairman Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) on the floor explained this will allow the executive branch to spend money quickly wherever needed, such as for COVID-19 testing, PPE and other emergency/health care related disbursements.
UPDATE 8:00 p.m.
Statement from Sen. Tom Whatley (R-Auburn):
“It is surprising to me that Governor Ivey thought she would have sole discretion of $1.8 billion dollars but I’m glad she’s consulted the Constitution and will acquiesce to public and legislative input in the Constitutionally laid out budgetary process.”
This story is breaking news and may be updated.
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn