State awaits federal funds

Taylor Holland

When Gov. Bob Riley delivered his final State of the State address to the Alabama Legislature on Jan. 12, he declared that Alabama had no funding crisis.

In response to further questioning, Riley told reporters that he was banking on the passage of a federal stimulus bill of more than $1 billion borrowed federal dollars to bail the state out for the second year in a row. He said that it was a safe bet that the Democrat-controlled Congress would pass the bailout, and that it was already worked into the state’s budget.

Although Riley has been very critical of many of President Barack Obama’s programs, including the stimulus bills, he is now relying on money from those bills to balance the state budget.

With the 2010 legislative session reaching the halfway point this week, those in charge of passing the budget are not ready to sign off on it based solely on the governor’s hopes.

State Rep. Christopher England, D-Tuscaloosa, said that he, based on information and feedback from Washington, is not optimistic about Alabama getting the bailout money.

“In his State of the Union address, President Obama said that there would be no more domestic spending, and, as far as I know, stimulus money is classified as domestic spending.”

State Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Baldwin, said he expects stimulus money will come to Alabama, but less than what Riley is expecting.

“I am very concerned about the state of the budget,” Pittman said. “We’re still treading water on bingo bills and legalizing electronic bingo when don’t have the votes to support them, when we need to get to the budget.”

This week, portions of the budget were introduced to both the Alabama House of Representatives and Senate. The House will review the general budget, while the Senate will evaluate the education budget. Once the budgets are passed in committee, the bills will be swapped and reviewed again.

If the budget has not been approved by April 26, the last day of session, Riley will make adjustments to it and ask state senators and representatives to reconvene.

“I would hate to go to special session because of the extra money it will cost taxpayers, but I can see the budget not passing by April 26,” Pittman said.

England said to expect massive budget cuts if the state were to not get the stimulus money.

State Budget Officer Carolyn Middleton said that state lawmakers were holding off on passing the budget because they are trying to get a better feel for what Congress may do with regard to giving the state money, and that this was nothing unusual.

“It’s going to take a while to be passed,” Middleton said. “During a campaign year, Alabama law prohibits representatives and senators from campaigning while in session. Seeing as this year is indeed an election year, many lawmakers are trying to win their seats back. One could expect the budget to be passed by the last of session.”