Alabama legislators will return to Montgomery on Monday to hammer out a plan for spending the $1.9 billion in federal help for the state to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.
Gov. Kay Ivey has worked out a spending plan with House Republicans to give up to $300 million to state agencies for coronavirus expenses; $250 million to local governments; $250 million for health care services; $300 million to support residents, businesses, and nonprofit and faith-based organizations; $300 million for technology and infrastructure related to remote learning; $200 million to the prison system; and $10 million to the court system.
“We want to make sure that the cities and municipalities get their fair share of the money,” said state Rep. Debbie Wood, R-Valley. “And there’s a lot more in there, for small-business help and cleaning school buildings and more.”
That plan clashes with state Senate Majority Leader Del Marsh’s proposals for the money. He suggested spending $800 million to build out the state’s broadband coverage and possibly an additional $200 million to renovate the Statehouse.
Ivey has pushed back against Marsh’s plan, insisting on using the money for immediate needs.
House Democrats are likely to skip Monday’s session, just as they did last week. However, at least one of them thinks Ivey is on the right track.
“I don’t necessarily think (Marsh) is wrong about broadband, but what is the biggest need right now?” said state Rep. Jeremy Gray, D-Opelika. “I think the governor has a good proposal. It wouldn’t look right to do $800 million for broadband and $200 million for the Statehouse right now.”
Wood doesn’t think it’s the right time for Marsh’s plan, either, but she did stick up for him.
“I can understand if Sen. Marsh is frustrated. He was asked to come up with a wish list and he did,” she said.
State Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, spoke favorably of Marsh’s $800 million broadband proposal when it first went public, but he said Ivey’s plan is doable.
The money can be moved around by a committee of House and Senate party leaders, budget chairmen, the speaker and the president pro tem of the Senate, he said.
“It puts money in several different buckets while also allowing flexibility” should COVID-19 spending needs change in the near term, Whatley said.
“I think her executive amendment is good because it recognizes the legislative process. ... I appreciate her coming up with this framework,” he said.
The Legislature approved plans last week for the state’s general fund, education trust fund and several local bills, including one allowing the city of Opelika to annex land that had been previously proposed for a granite quarry.