By Kim Chandler, Associated Press
Alabama lawmakers agreed Monday to give back Gov. Kay Ivey control over the state’s $1.8 billion in coronavirus relief funds, ending a public tug-of-war over the money that strained the relationship between the Republican governor and some senators.
Lawmakers approved Ivey’s executive amendment on a spending bill that deposits the money into several broad categories such as $300 million to reimburse state agencies for coronavirus expenses and $250 million to local governments. The administration will decide how to use the money.
Legislative leaders will get advance notice of large expenditures but have no power to stop it. However, the money can only be shifted to different categories with approval of a committee of legislative leaders.
“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 this disease,” Ivey said in a statement.
The Alabama Senate voted 30-1 to accept the amendment. The House of Representatives approved it in a 73-1 vote. Lawmakers concluded the 2020 session with the votes.
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said he voted ‘yes’ in order to get the money quickly to those who need it, but Marsh said he was concerned that the Senate was left out of negotiations with the governor’s office and the House.
“We have to look at the big picture here. We’ve got to get these dollars to the people that need them as quickly as possible,” Marsh said after the vote.
Ivey’s amendment put the money into different categories, including up to $300 million to reimburse state agencies for coronavirus expenses; $250 million to local governments; $250 million for health care services; $300 million to support citizens, businesses and nonprofit and faith-based organizations; $300 million for technology and infrastructure related to remote learning; $200 million to the prison system and $10 million to the court system.
Some Senate Democrats said they were concerned that Democrats, who represent some of the hardest hit areas, are not represented on the legislative committee that could shuffle the money to different uses.
“It is our people in the African American community that our dying disproportionately more than anyone else from COVID disease. We want to make sure that money is spent in the places where it is going to help not just our people but all Alabamians,” Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton said.
The Republican governor and Republican lawmakers had a rare public disagreement over the funds.
The spending bill originally passed by lawmakers had designated $200 million to the governor for the reimbursement of coronavirus-related expenditures with the rest to be decided later by lawmakers.
During the disagreement, Ivey disclosed that she had seen a “wish list” suggesting that $200 million could be used to build a new Statehouse — an idea that Marsh said was never at the top of the list for discussion. Republican Sen. Greg Albritton of Range said he had learned only Thursday that the governor and House had negotiated the executive amendment on his bill.
Marsh said the relationship with the governor was “strained.”
“I believe the governor truly threw members of the legislature under the bus in tough times for no reasons,” Marsh said.
House Speaker Mac McCutcheon said House members submitted ideas to Ivey because they were concerned the governor might veto the budgets.
“We were not working in secret. We were just doing our job,” McCutcheon said.
As of Monday, more than 12,000 people in the state had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, and about 480 people statewide had died.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.