The department said the move is allowable and typical late in a budget year. The money is coming from ALDOT’s Public Road and Bridge Fund, which consists largely of gas tax receipts and federal funding receipts, but not the 2019 gas tax increase. That account, known as the Rebuild Alabama Fund, is specifically prohibited from being diverted from road and bridge projects for other purposes.
State agencies often transfer Legislature-allocated money between funds throughout a budget year, as allowed by law. The actions have to go through the Department of Finance.
Still, the decrease in road funding and increase in administrative funding first reported by Alabama Daily News Monday gives some lawmakers pause.
Rep. Andrew Sorrell, R-Muscle Shoals, was one of a few lawmakers who voted against the 2019 gas tax increase, despite requirements in the bill that new revenue couldn’t be used for salaries and benefits, new equipment or construction “not integral to the roads and bridges.” It also created a Rebuild Alabama Fund to collect the new tax revenue.
“This kind of thing happens in government all the time,” Sorrell said Monday. “They say, ‘OK, we’re going to put this new property tax on for schools and it’s only going to be used for the construction of new schools.’ OK, great. But then that frees up other money in another bank account that you don’t have to spend on a new school and you can do whatever you want with.”
In June, ALDOT Commissioner John Cooper in a letter to Gov. Kay Ivey said the transfer was needed because of an underestimation in costs to the department’s General Administration Program. That funding is based on previous years’ estimates.
“Currently, the results of the underestimation require additional spending authority to operate administrative functions for the duration of the fiscal year,” he wrote.
The fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
“It’s not uncommon for state agencies to seek this sort of approval late in a fiscal year,” ALDOT spokesman Tony Harris said Monday in response to questions from Alabama Daily News. “This is a matter of being given spending authority in a specific budget category, not a cash transfer. ALDOT is one of at least seven state agencies that found it necessary to move spending authority from one budget category to another. Budgets for this fiscal year are based on two-year-old projections, so it’s not unusual for these changes to be made entering the final quarter of a fiscal year.”
Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Daphne, said Monday he wanted to know why ALDOT’s administration fund needed additional money to finish the year.
“I’m concerned anytime money that could be used for infrastructure is used for overhead,” Elliott said.
“This is why when we passed Rebuild Alabama, we specifically forbid that (transfers away from road projects).”
The 2021 General Fund budget allocated $142.1 million to ALDOT’s General Administration Program and $1.3 billion for the Surface Transportation Improvement and Preservation Program. There was a separate $160.9 million allocation in the Rebuild Alabama Program.
For fiscal 2021, ALDOT had total appropriations of $1.6 billion, according to the Legislative Services Agency. Nearly 57% of that money came from state funds. The rest was federal and local.