Last-minute fix possible as Legislature runs out of cash
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Aug 09, 2012 | 7166 views |  0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Alabama Statehouse entrance is pictured in this file photo. (AP photo by Dave Martin)
The Alabama Statehouse entrance is pictured in this file photo. (AP photo by Dave Martin)
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Alabama’s Legislature is running on fumes, financially speaking, but the clerk of the House of Representatives said he plans to invoke an obscure law to keep the Statehouse up and running.

House Clerk Greg Pappas said Wednesday he will invoke a little-used “evergreen appropriations” clause in state law that should give the Legislature the funds to continue operating between now and the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

“We’ve used it only one other time, back in 1991,” Pappas said of the clause. “I’d forgotten that it was even there.”

State records, available online, show that the House and Senate have spent a little more than $19.2 million on Statehouse operations so far this fiscal year. There was only $19.6 million in the budget to run the House and Senate for the fiscal year. If the Legislature continued spending at its usual rate — about $1.9 million per month — it would hit the $19.6 million mark within the next week.

That $19.6 million budget for Statehouse functions is just part of the $37 million appropriation for the entire legislative branch, which includes offices such as the Examiners of Public Accounts and the Legislative Fiscal Office. But that $19.6 million includes pay for lawmakers and staff and other items that keep the House and Senate open for business.

“We’re pretty damn close” to running out of funds, Pappas said. He said the Legislature could make payroll two more times with the amount of money currently in its budget.

The Legislature isn’t in session now, but that could change quickly after Sept. 18, when voters go to the polls to decide on a constitutional amendment designed to pull $146 million per year from a state trust fund to patch a hole in the 2013 budget. Staff in Gov. Robert Bentley’s office told The Associated Press last month that there is no plan for a special session. But if the amendment fails, Bentley would likely face pressure to re-convene the Legislature to address the budget.

Legislative staffers have been warning for weeks that there won’t be enough money to fund a special session — or any other activity — at year’s end. Legislative staff say that’s because of proration, the state’s practice of implementing mid-year budget cuts when tax revenues don’t match state projections. Gov. Robert Bentley announced 10.6 percent proration earlier this year, eliminating a $2.1 million surplus that would otherwise have been available for Statehouse operations.

Pappas said he will send a letter to state Finance Director Marquita Davis, invoking a little-known law that allows the Legislature to demand additional funds from the state government, a half-million dollars at a time, when legislative funds run out.

“It’s called evergreen appropriations,” Pappas said. He said the law was passed late in the George Wallace era, during a year in which multiple special sessions had been held. He said the “evergreen” clause has been invoked only once before — in 1991, a recession year.

The law, Section 29-1-22 of the Code of Alabama, says the $500,000 infusion can come from “any funds available in the State Treasury as determined by the budget officer.” Pappas said he believes that means Davis, the state finance director, can take money from any agency to meet the Legislature’s request.

Pappas said he’d already signed the letter requesting the money and sent it on to the Senate for signing by Senate Secretary Pat Harris. Senate staff said that Harris was out of town and Senate staff were reviewing the letter.

Jennifer Ardis, spokeswoman for Gov. Robert Bentley, said Wednesday that she hadn’t heard of the request.

Ardis also acts as spokeswoman for the finance director, and after consulting with finance staff, Ardis said Davis was not yet willing to comment on the funding request.

“Because we’ve not received the letter yet, it would be difficult to comment on it,” she said.

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