Article by: Brian Lyman
It’s a problem most people would want to have: how to spend a large chunk of cash.
For now, it’s the major issue facing legislators as they assemble for the start of the 2022 regular session. The House and Senate will convene at noon on Tuesday for a session that won’t adjourn until March at the earliest. It’s an election-year session, and legislators traditionally try to avoid complicated issues and try to get out as soon as possible.
The early signs suggest legislators will have that opportunity. Approving the state’s two budgets, the Legislature’s only constitutional duty, should be easy: both the Education Trust Fund and General Fund budgets appear to be in good shape. And while gambling bills have been filed for the session, there’s no concerted effort from leaders to pass any lottery or casino bill. The session could be defined by what legislators want to do, rather than what they have to do.
Here are three things to watch in the early going of the session.
1. American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds
Alabama legislators will decide how to allocate about $1.5 billion in federal ARPA funds, aimed at replacing lost revenue from the COVID pandemic. There appears to be a broad consensus among Republicans to put the money — which must be allocated before 2026 — toward broadband expansion; water and sewer infrastructure and compensation for health care providers addressing the pandemic.
What’s less apparent is how the money would be divided among those priorities. That could end up leading to lengthy debates. Legislators have talked about the possibility of a special session within the current session to address the funds. That would require legislators to spend a week or more talking about nothing but how the money would be spent. Gina Maiola, a spokeswoman for Gov. Kay Ivey, did not dismiss the possibility on Monday.
“The governor wants this to be an early priority for the Legislature,” Maiola wrote in an email. “She has stressed time and again that we need to invest this one-time money, not just casually spend it.”
2. Permitless carry
If a special session doesn’t commence within the first week or two of the session, expect legislation to abolish gun permits to come to the Alabama House floor for a vote. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Shane Stringer, R-Citronelle, would repeal gun permit requirements in the state of Alabama.
Similar legislation has come up in the past, but failed to make it out of the Legislature. House Republicans put permitless carry at the top of their agenda released last week. Republican legislators could find themselves in an uncomfortable place between activists who have been pushing the legislation for years — and who could make it an issue in the May primaries — and sheriffs who have historically opposed the measure.
3. Pay raises for teachers, state employees
The permitless carry legislation may be controversial. But giving teachers and state employees pay raises in an election year is always a popular move.
Both Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature say they’ll support some pay raise level for both groups, but no exact increase has been agreed to. The Legislature in recent years has generally set pay raises at 2%. Republicans have not yet committed to a level they want to support. House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, citing inflationary pressures, said last month that anything less than 5% would be “a waste of time.”
Legislators also appear likely to support a $300 bonus for teachers and state retirees. Retirees have not seen a cost-of-living adjustment since 2007 due to law changes that require the full cost of an increase to be paid front. The expense is steep: where a 1% raise for current education employees costs about $45 million, a similar increase for retired teachers would cost $199.3 million.
Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Brian Lyman at 334-240-0185 or email@example.com.
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