Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a statement on May 14 announcing that she would not sign Senate Bill 161, which was passed earlier in the week, and offered an amendment to the bill.
Senate Bill 161 would hand over spending authority of the $1.9 billion Alabama is receiving from the CARES Act for Coronavirus relief to the Legislature.
“I have reviewed Senate Bill 161 and believe that all federal CARES Act funds should be appropriated immediately,” Ivey said in a statement. Unlike other emergency relief bills that have been passed by Congress during recent disasters, the (CARES) Act was signed into law by President (Donald) Trump on March 27 with clear intent of reimbursing only those expenses incurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Moreover, the obligation is for a period that begins on March 1 and ends on Dec. 30, meaning if this money isn’t spent, not just allocated, by the end of this year, it goes back to the U.S. Treasury.”
Controversy has developed over a recent “wish list” that the Alabama Legislature provided Ivey over things it wanted the money spent on, which included non-COVID-19 related things such as a new $200 million state house. Ivey has rejected such ideas and Alabama representatives like Del Marsh – who sent the list to Ivey – and Steve Clouse have said that those types of expenditures would not be pursued by the Legislature.
“Alabama’s total share of the CARES Act funds is a little over $1.9 billion,” Ivey continued. “That’s a lot of money for sure, and if spent wisely, it could very well help us pay for many legitimate expenses incurred by cities, counties and the state, nursing homes and hospitals, schools and colleges – and other worthy expenditures – that are directly connected to COVID-19.”
Ivey also addressed the public spat that she and the Legislature have had over the spending of this money.
“I have known many in the legislature for a long time and have built many lasting, true friendships,” she continued. “Like any working relationship, you will have occasional disagreements. Tension can be a good thing if you allow it to birth good ideas; we must not allow egos or personal agendas to outweigh public good.
“My firm opinion remains that most members of the Legislature want to do the right thing while making certain this money helps the people of Alabama who have been harmed by this disease.”
Senate Bill 161 allocated just $200 million of the $1.9 billion to pay for immediate expenses with the plan being the rest would be appropriated in a special session “later this year.”
Ivey’s amendment to the bill would give the executive branch and the Department of Finance control of $1.8 billion in federal money from the CARES Act with $300 million going to reimburse state agencies for COVID-19 expenditures along with up to $250 million going go to reimburse local governments for COVID-19 expenditures.
Another $250 million would go to “support the delivery of healthcare and related services to the citizens of Alabama related to COVID-19,” while $300 million goes to support citizens, business and non-profit and faith-based organizations impacted by COVID-19.
Up to $53 million would go to reimbursement of equipment and infrastructure necessary for remote work and public access to functions of state government impacted by COVID-19.
Up to $300 million would go for technology and infrastructure for remote instruction and learning and $200 million to the Department of Corrections to address COVID-19.
Also, up to $10 million will go to courts to ensure access during COVID-19 and up to $5 million to reimburse the state’s general fund for previous appropriations to the Alabama Department of Public Health.
The remaining $118 million could be used “for any lawful purpose in line with federal guidance.”
According to Ivey’s communications director Leah Garner, Ivey was contacted by Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon and Clouse and was asked to make her amendment to the bill rather than simply vetoing it. The House and the Senate will now either vote to pass the amended bill or not.
On Monday, May 18, the Alabama Senate approved the bill with Ivey’s amendment.
“I commend the Alabama Legislature for their cooperation by supporting my Executive Amendment to SB161,” Ivey said in a statement. “This friendly amendment ensures the CARES Act money will be immediately available to the people of Alabama and put to use under the intent of the U.S. Congress and President Trump.
“I thank the members of the Alabama Legislature for supporting this amendment and for ensuring this money helps the people of Alabama who have been harmed by (COVID-19).”