MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives passed a $1.06 billion spending bill on Tuesday, allocating the final round of federal dollars afforded to states by the American Rescue Plan Act.
On a 102-3 vote, the spending bill passed unchanged from previous drafts, with up to around $400 million toward health care-related services, $660 million for water, sewer and broadband infrastructure, and $55 million for eligible health emergency economic programs and services.
Following the bill’s passage, House Speaker Nathanial Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, said he felt his House colleagues had “made an investment in our state today,” and praised the allocation decisions as being well-decided.
“We had probably a series of five or six meetings, everyone did an outstanding job, and I’m excited that the members listened to everything we had going on and asked all the questions they needed to ask,” Ledbetter said. “I think it's as transparent as we could have had it, and I'm excited that we've made an investment in our state.”
Rep. Phillip Ensler, D-Montgomery, said he was also pleased with the bill’s passing, particularly with its $400 million toward health-care services. He also noted that he and the Democratic House Caucus would work to address the concerns raised by Rep. Juandalynn Givan that the funds are allocated equitably.
“A lot of (the funding allocations) will be worked out in the memorandums of agreement that the state agencies or departments have, and that's going to be really key what those details are, making sure that it is dispersed in an equitable way,” Ensler told Alabama Daily News.
While the bill passed mostly uncontested, Givan, D-Birmingham, expressed concerns on the House Floor regarding the distribution of the federal funds.
Specifically, Givan pointed to the $1.3 billion prison project approved in 2021 using $400 million in ARPA funds, and compared it with the needs of Birmingham Southern College, a private university in her district under threat of closure due to a $37.5 million shortfall brought on by years of deficits and declining enrollment.
“I'm a legislator that stood here two years ago when we had a special session for which we debated a bill for a little over $1 billion to build a prison, and the prison still isn't built, so I still have folks asking me about that,” Givan said.
“We can find $1.3 billion for prisons that we haven't built yet, but not $37.5 million for Birmingham Southern to save it; an educational institution to help our children?”
Rep. Rex Reynolds, R-Huntsville, explained that the allocation of the latest ARPA funds by county or district won’t be available until the state receives applications for eligible projects as outlined by the spending bill.
The ARPA bill now goes to the Senate.
The Senate on Tuesday passed 33-0 Senate Bill 2 to repay from the General Fund this year nearly $60 million to the Alabama Trust Fund.
In 2012, when the Great Recession led to drops in state tax revenues, lawmakers and voters approved borrowing $437 million from the state trust fund in order to support state agencies for three years. Lawmakers later made a plan to repay that money. The money in SB2 is the last of that money, repaid a few years early. The trust fund is supported by offshore drilling royalties and interest from it feeds into the General Fund each year.
On the Senate floor Tuesday, Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, said some had suggested not repaying the money.
“One of the things that my parents taught me, and I’m sure your parents taught you, is that you pay your debt,” Chambliss said.
Senate Bill 2 now goes to the House.
Alabama Daily News' Mary Sell contributed to this report.