Special Session likely this week
Published 10:17 pm Monday, January 17, 2022
Around $600 million in state funding from the American Rescue Plan has the attention of just about everyone in Montgomery.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey made note of the funding in her State of the State Address last week and encouraged the Legislature to put a high priority on making a decision on how to spend the money. Political analyst Steve Flowers said Ivey would likely call a special session to deal with the issue. Ivey has been reluctant to call special sessions unless all parties are in agreement on the issue.
“I think it’s closer to $600 million that will have to be apportioned,” Flowers said. “I’ve head $560, $580 and $600 million, So, it’s somewhere between $560 and $600 million. I think everybody is on the same page with this. The governor doesn’t like to call a special session unless everyone is in sync. I think it’s possible the Legislature may recess as early as Tuesday to take up the special session. But, I think it will happen this week.”
Flowers said the overriding concern in Montgomery is if the American Rescue Plan funding is apportioned in the regular session, it may get tangled up with the other budgets. He said the governor and legislature are all in agreement they don’t want that to happen. So, dealing with the issue in a special session keeps the federal money separate from everything else the Legislature will have to deal with.
Last year, the Legislature used the American Rescue Plan funding for the state to help fund building a new prison system – which, in essence, used federal money to help the state comply with federal lawsuits over the state’s prisons. Flowers said appropriating the money will be more straightforward this year.
“We were kind of in uncharted waters when the Legislature used the COVID money for the prisons,” Flowers said. “In all, it will be what the federal government wants the money to be spent on – broadband internet, sewer and water and hospitals. Those are things the state can’t do with ordinary tax money alone. They need big budget money to deal with those issues.”
Flowers said he thought the Legislature would put a strong emphasis on broadband internet in rural areas.
“The Legislature has a very accurate map of where broadband expansion is needed,” Flowers said. “That’s the Black Belt and other rural areas. A lot of it will be in west Alabama. But, Sen. Donnie Chesteen (Dale, Geneva and Houston Counties) is at the forefront of rural broadband. So, there is a real need for it in his district. So, it will affect all of the state’s rural areas.”
Flowers said he thought the state’s hospitals would receive a lot of funding from the federal money to offset the cost of dealing with the pandemic.