State senators express concerns over being excluded from $1.8 billion CARES Act funding negotiations between governor, House of Reps
Tensions appear to have subsided between the legislature and the governor’s office over an apparent dispute for control of some $1.8 billion in funding allocated by Congress through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
On Thursday, Gov. Kay Ivey issued a statement of intent to sign the $7.2 billion education budget and the $2.3 billion general fund budget. However, accompanying the statement was an executive amendment, which dealt with the CARES Act funding. Ivey confirmed on Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal” on Friday the amendment was the product of negotiations that included leadership from the Alabama House of Representatives and the governor’s office. However, it did not include leadership from the State Senate.
Both House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) and State Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark), the chairman of the House Ways and Means General Fund committee, spoke approvingly of Ivey’s amendment.
“Our goal throughout this budgeting process has been to ensure that Alabama’s share of the federal CARES Act dollars is appropriated in a manner that is open, transparent, and serves the greatest public good. I believe that Governor Ivey’s proposed executive amendment checks all of those boxes,” McCutcheon said in a statement with APTV’s “Capitol Journal.”
“I think this is a good compromise here, and that we can move forward here and have these funds available right now so the Department of Finance can get to work on these different areas,” Clouse said in an interview with APTV that aired Friday. “Like I said, funds have to be spent by December 31 based on what the guidelines are saying now. They could come back and extend it. I hope they do — give us some more time.”
“It’s just not realistic for the legislature to be called back into special session time after time to figure out where this money is going to be going,” he continued. “So, I think this is certainly a good compromise, and I hope the House will go along. I’m going to recommend the House go along.”
However, leadership in the State Senate was not quite as favorable as their counterparts in the House chamber.
“A lot of discussion has occurred about the possibility of what to do and not do,” State Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore), the chairman of the Alabama Senate general fund committee, said. “I don’t know that we have as a caucus or as a body what will occur on Monday. But I can tell you this — and there are some good parts about this that I think that need to be adopted. The governor has acknowledged the constitutional responsibility that appropriating funds is the legislature’s duty and right. I think that’s one of the major fights we were having.”
According to “Capitol Journal” anchor Don Dailey, State Senate President Pro-Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) put out a statement saying he was “extremely disappointed” Senate leadership was not included.
State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), the chairman of the Senate Education Budget Committee, told Huntsville radio WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show” the Senate had a conference call to discuss the proposal, but also acknowledged his concern with the Senate leadership being left out of the loop.
“What’s problematic is I heard that the House worked with the governor on this amendment to the exclusion of the Senate,” Orr said. “So that, if true — presumably there are all on board. But our general fund chairman into this. So, we’ll have to see what the mood of the Senate is in approving or concurring with the executive amendment.”
Ivey seemed to shrug off the criticism from the Senate, saying the leadership in the upper chamber had the ability to reach out to her if they saw necessary during her Friday “Capitol Journal” appearance.
“The leadership of the Senate, the leadership of the House, have my cell phone 24/7,” Ivey said. “The House reached out with a specific proposal. I did not hear from the Senate. But they started the bill. They originated the bill. They had a definite say-so in the beginning in the livelihood of Senate Bill 161. They definitely had a say in it, but the House reached out to see if we could find a way to get out of the box we felt like we were in. The House leadership agreed, and I said, ‘Let’s move forward and we’ll ask the Senate to work with us.'”
“When this is all said and done, this is for the people of Alabama,” she added. “This is not my list, the House’s list, or the Senate’s list. This is the people’s list as prescribed by the CARES Act.”
@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly and host of Huntsville’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN.