Legislature passes Education Budget
The Alabama House of Representatives approved the state’s Education Budget Tuesday by a vote of 89-10. The Senate approved the Education Budget Thursday afternoon with a vote of 28-8. The Senate’s vote was split largely along party lines with most Democrats voting in favor of the budget and most Republicans voting against it.
The budget for the fiscal year begins Oct. 1. It increases spending by $250 million, or 6 percent more than this year’s $4.3 billion budget.
The budget now heads to Gov. Bob Riley who told the Associated Press that he plans to send the budget back to the Legislature with one executive amendment. That amendment would take out $17 million that legislators planned to use from the state’s capital improvements trust fund. The governor said his amendment would replace that funding with money saved by refinancing some state bonds at lower interest rates.
Indications from Senate leaders are that legislators will go along with the governor’s amendment.
Despite earlier claims that education was in a “financial crisis” in the state, the budget includes increases for textbooks, libraries and technology that were cut this year due to shortfalls in projected revenue.
The budget doesn’t include any cost-of-living increases for public school employees, but it does fully fund the employees’ benefits. Budget spending for retirement and health insurance benefits for K-12 will increase from $532 million to $602 million next year.
The budget also includes $11.7 million that legislators use as discretionary grants within their community.
Prior to the defeat of Amendment 1 last fall, the governor and several state leaders said the education budget would be slashed and teachers might lose their jobs if tax increases weren’t approved.
Sen. Dell Marsh, R-Anniston, voted against the budget. He told the Associated Press that increasing spending “sends the message that all along we had the money and we were crying wolf.”
Breakdown on the state education budget:
K-12 – This year: $2,900,505,177 • Next year: $3,135,035,153
Higher Education – This year: $1,160,120,004 • Next year: $1,205,062,932
Other allocations – This year: $ 221,046,991 • Next year: $191,281,078
Time running out for Legislature to pass General Fund budget
With only four meeting days left in the legislative session, time is running out for passage of this year’s General Fund budget. And promises of reform and accountability in state government haven’t been passed either, said Federation Director of Governmental Affairs Freddie Patterson.
“There’s been absolutely no reform that will make any difference to taxpayers,” Patterson said of the session. “All the focus has been on raising money through higher taxes and fees or raiding the capital improvements trust fund.”
Tuesday through Thursday of next week and Monday, May 17, wrap up the regular session.
Work on the budget stalled this week as legislators struggled to balance the budget and find additional money for increased spending. The House Government Finance and Appropriations Committee delayed action Thursday on a bill that would raise the severance tax on natural gas production and another bill that would delay the final payday for state employees of the 2004-2005 fiscal year by three days. The two measures would raise an estimated $42 million and were part of a compromise reached between the governor and legislators last week.
Riley had objected to a proposal that would have used more than $100 million from the state’s capital improvements fund and economic development projects to help balance the budget. The compromise would have allowed only $50 million to be taken from the capital improvements trust fund if money were channeled from the severance tax and the payday delay.
The Senate Finance and Taxation-General Fund Committee was scheduled to meet Thursday to consider the General Fund budget and a proposed tax increase on cigarettes. But that meeting was canceled because its chairman Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, was ill with kidney stones. However, Senate leaders said the committee is expected to meet Tuesday to consider the proposals. That would push consideration of the General Fund budget into the final days of the session.
Legislators cut CAFO money in General Fund
Cuts in Alabama’s General Fund budget could force farmers with concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) to pay registration fees for the first time. The fees charged by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) are designed to cover the cost for inspection and compliance requirements of CAFOs.
CAFO regulations in Alabama were enacted in 1999, and government officials pledged support to ADEM to help defer the increased cost by the agency for supervising the new regulations.
However, in the proposed state General Fund budget which has passed the House and is being considered by the Senate, funding for CAFO was reduced from $350,000 to $87,500.
Federation Environmental Affairs Director Steve Guy said farmers had to pay the cost from implementing the CAFO regulations, now they will bear most of the cost for government inspection of these new regulations.
Guy said depending on the size of the CAFO, farmers will pay from $150 to $900 for an annual permit.
“Based on the current political climate, we’re not optimistic about having the funding restored,” Guy said. “Regrettably, farmers will have to bear the cost.”
BILLS IN BRIEF
Family Farm Preservation Act – SB 261
Sponsored by Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, no action was taken on the bill this week. The bill was assigned to Senate Judiciary Committee where not vote has been taken. If it were to be approved by the committee next week, it would then take unanimous consent by the Senate for the bill to move to the House for consideration there. AFF SUPPORTS.Shrimp & Seafood Checkoff
Allows members of the shrimp and seafood industry to establish a checkoff program. Both bills are sponsored by Rep. Spencer Collier, R-Irvington. The second proposed bill is the enabling legislation. The bill has passed by the House and Senate and was signed by the governor. AFF SUPPORTS.Ag Department Fees – HB 370
The bill would increase fees for the Department of Agriculture and Industries. Sponsored by Rep. Joe Carothers, D-Dothan, the bill passed the House and has been passed by the Senate Economic Expansion and Trade Committee. It is awaiting action by the full Senate.Catfish Weighing Bill – SB 382
Sponsored by Senators Charles Steele, D-Tuscaloosa and Zeb Little, D-Cullman, would standardize Alabama’s catfish weighing practices with those of other states. It requires processors to use a weighing device that would electronically print data that includes processor and producer information. The bill was passed by the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee and is awaiting action by the full Senate. The House companion bill, HB 541, is sponsored by Rep. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro. AFF SUPPORTS.Anhydrous Ammonia – HB 162
Sponsored by Rep. Ron Johnson, R-Sylacauga, HB 162 defines the term “anhydrous ammonia” and makes it a crime to unlawfully possess anhydrous ammonia for illegal drug purposes. This bill has a provision that protects production agriculture in relation to possession of this chemical. The bill passed the House and is awaiting action in the Senate Judiciary Committee. AFF SUPPORTS.COOL -HB 606 – SB 388
Sponsored by Rep. John Robinson, D-Scottsboro in the House and Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe in the Senate, the bill requires grocery stores to furnish country of origin labels for fruits, vegetables and honey grown outside of the United States. The House Agriculture and Forestry Committee has approved the bill. It now heads to the full House. AFF SUPPORTS.Public Timber Sales – HB 33
Sponsored by Rep. Allen Layson, D-Reform, HB 33 allows timber on public lands to be sold as surplus property without bidding. It increases the minimum sale allowed without bid from $500 to $25,000. The bill passed the House and is awaiting action by the Senate. AFF SUPPORTS.Shellfish Restrictions – SB 375 •HB 206
Establishes penalties for the direct retail sale of shellfish treated with certain veterinary drugs. In addition to shellfish, the bill includes all wild fish and farm-raised fish. The Senate bill, sponsored by Jim Preuitt, D-Talladega, passed the Senate and has passed the House Ag Committee. The Senate version of the bill is awaiting action of the full House before going to the governor. The House version of the bill was sponsored by Rep. Richard Laird, D-Roanoke, and passed the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee. It is awaiting action by the full House.
AFF SUPPORTS.Queen Honey Bee– HB 473
The Alabama House passed a bill Tuesday to make the queen honey bee the official state insect. The sponsor of HB 473 is Rep. Sue Schmitz, D-Toney. She said she picked the queen honey bee because it's the most important bee and because honey bees are the only insects that provide revenue for the state by producing honey and participating in the pollination process. The bill has been sent to the Senate where it is assigned to the Tourism and Marketing Committee. AFF SUPPORTS.Gleaning – HB 23 – SB 198
Sponsored by Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, and Sen. Jimmy Holley, D-Elba, the bill allows farmers to invite non-profit agencies to gather remaining agriculture crops, with limitations of civil liability, and donate them to charitable organizations. The liability risks do not exceed that of a trespasser. The bill has been sent to the governor. AFF SUPPORTS.