By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Alabama House Minority Leader Rep. Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, believes it is unwise for the Legislature to pass the state budgets in the coming weeks without more information about how the coronavirus pandemic will affect state revenues in fiscal year 2021.
“Now more than ever we need to follow the best practices from a health standpoint and from a budgeting stand point,” Daniels said during an online press conference Wednesday.
“We want a budget that works and a budget process that’s considerate, deliberate and open. Moving forward when there are more questions than answers isn’t just unnecessary and illogical, it’s fiscally irresponsible and it’s just bad public policy.”
Daniels suggested that the Legislature wait until at least July before considering budgets because state income tax information is expected to be ready by July 15.
He also said that Gov. Kay Ivey’s most recent “safer-at-home” order that allows retail businesses to reopen at 50% capacity could affect Alabama’s economy and budget outcomes.
“Right now, we’re budgeting in the blind,” Daniels said.
The House and Senate are scheduled to reconvene on Monday with the sole purpose of passing local legislation and the state’s two budgets, the General Fund and the Education Trust Fund.
The Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee voted 13-1 on Tuesday to send its budget proposal to the full Senate next week.
Committee Chairman Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, told reporters on Tuesday that the Legislature has enough data at this time to pass an informed General Fund budget and should get to work on passing it now rather than waiting.
“You can gather data for a long time. This way we have a budget established, we know where we’re going and we can always come back and adjust when and if we need to,” Albritton said.
The proposed 2021 General Fund budget is around $2.38 billion, an increase from the current fiscal year funding but less than what was expected before the coronavirus pandemic.
The Education Trust Fund, which pays for the range of school spending from Pre-K to state colleges, starts in the House this year and is expected to be in committee early next week.
The state’s fiscal year starts October 1, but Senate education budget committee Chairman Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said schools begin budgeting long before that. He believes the budgets need to be passed now because school systems need to know what they can expect to spend in the new school year.
“They may start issuing contracts in June and they really need that certainty going forward,” Orr told reporters on Tuesday.
Both Orr and Albritton agree that changes can be made to the budgets later in the year if needed.
Daniels also said many Democrats are concerned about the health risks of convening the full 105-member House on Monday. He said he would like to see all lawmakers and State House staff tested and results be confirmed before coming to Montgomery.
“How are we demonstrating to the public how we are taking this pandemic seriously if we’re doing the opposite of what we’re asking them to do?” Daniels said.
House Speaker Mac McCutcheon last week said members and staff would be required to wear masks in the chamber and that testing would be made available, but not required.