MONTGOMERY — Legislative leadership expects to pass the state’s 2021 education budget Saturday, but they’re also bracing for Gov. Kay Ivey to veto the General Fund Budget they sent her Thursday.
“Gov. Ivey has indicated she will veto the budget we sent to her (Thursday) as she plans to cede full authority over COVID-19 funds to the Alabama Legislature,” Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, said in a written statement Friday. State leaders are expecting nearly $1.8 billion in federal funds to be used on coronavirus-related expenses.
The state Constitution allows the governor to veto a bill outright or send it back to the Legislature with certain amendments for lawmakers to consider. However, only simple majority votes of both chambers are needed to override the governor’s veto.
Friday morning, Ivey said her office was reviewing the General Fund budget. A spokeswoman told Alabama Daily News “all options remain on the table.”
Thursday, a simmering fight between Ivey and lawmakers over control of the federal COVID-19 funds boiled over when Ivey in a terse statement ceded control of the money to lawmakers.
“I spoke with Chairman Clouse in advance to it being on the House floor and I told him that I wanted them to zero out all funds, all matters previously allocated to the Governor’s Office,” Ivey told reporters Friday morning.
“I didn’t want any to be assigned to the Governor’s Office. And if the legislators are so adamant about having a say in this, I just said I was willing to give up all monies devoted to the Governor’s Office and let the Legislature have total responsibility for spending the money and for developing the plans for which to spend them.”
In her Thursday statement, Ivey referred to a “wish list” among lawmakers for the federal money that included a $200 million State House.
“(Ivey’s) statement yesterday grossly mischaracterized our effort to share this responsibility and weigh in on behalf of our constituents as self-serving,” Clouse said.
Last week, state senators put language in budget-related legislation that made clear their intent to have a say in how the money is spent. This week, they removed that language and said this federal money is like other taxpayer money: the state Constitution gives the Legislature the authority to allocate it.
A Senate version of the General Fund gave Ivey $100 million to spend immediately. In Clouse’s committee, that amount was bumped to $600 million.
“I was under the impression that was going to be OK,” Clouse told Alabama Daily News. But Clouse said Ivey Thursday told him she’d veto the budget if it contained coronavirus money for her to spend.
In his written statement, he urged Ivey not to relinquish all responsibility over the federal funding.
“Just like it would be too easy for us to defer to the Governor completely, it is counterproductive for her to shift all responsibility to us. The challenge before us is as daunting as it is complex. We must protect Alabamians from a threat we do not yet fully understand while human lives and the state’s economy hang in the balance.
“We do not have the luxury of a power tug-of-war or political games — too much is at stake,” Clouse said.
The Senate General Fund Chairman, Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, said on Friday he doesn’t think CARES Act funding should be decided by any one governmental entity.
“I think it needs to be unified, that’s how the Constitution is set up and I think that’s the appropriate way,” Albritton said. “The goal here was to make sure we had as many eyes on it as possible.”
The Senate is expected today to give final approval to the $7.38 billion education budget and then go home. But today isn’t expected to be sine die, the final day of the session.
If lawmakers ended the session completely, the state constitution would allow Ivey to amend any line item in the budget and have it become law without going back to the Legislature.
The legislative branch wants to retain the final say.
“… due to recent circumstances, we will not adjourn Sine Die but leave a day available, as we have in the past, in case it is necessary to override a veto of the General Fund,” William Califf, a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, told Alabama Daily News on Friday.
Clouse Friday afternoon told ADN that he hopes “cooler heads will prevail.”
“We need her help and she needs the Legislature,” Clouse said.
ETF Moves to Senate
The Senate education budget committee approved the proposed fiscal year 2021 budget with some amendments, and the bill is now headed to the Senate floor for a vote on Saturday.
Committee Chairman Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said the changes made to the House-passed version weren’t minor and increases were given where it was possible. The $7.2 billion education budget would be an increase of $91 million from the current year’s budget, but still about $300 million less than the pre-pandemic proposed budget.
The coronavirus outbreak and resulting economic slowdown has negatively impacted state revenues, but lawmakers have been able to draw on savings accounts to keep from making cuts to programs.
The committee added another $1 million for the state’s award-winning First Class pre-K program, bringing the total increase from this year’s budget to $4 million. Ivey had originally proposed a $25 million increase to expand access to the program.
It also added $1.5 million to the Alabama Supercomputer Authority to provide local school systems IT support to help protect against cybersecurity threats, which Orr said is especially needed now that most schooling has moved online.
A new line item for Alabama Family Central was also added that gives $500,000 to start a media campaign on how families can find help with teaching children at home. Orr said he thought that was a timely measure to be added to the budgets.
“It’s a good support mechanism for parents who may not feel comfortable diagramming sentences or explaining algebra to a young person,” Orr said.
The budget bill still does not include a pay raise for teachers, but Orr said teacher health insurance and the retirement system have not been affected.