General Fund Budget Increases Funding for Agriculture, Forestry
Agriculture and forestry would benefit from increased funding under a General Fund (GF) budget approved this week by the Alabama Legislature. The almost $2.4 billion package awaits action by Gov. Kay Ivey, who could sign the bill, veto it, or add executive amendments.
The Legislature is set to reconvene May 18 to address any changes from the governor before adjourning the Regular Session sine die. Gov. Ivey released a statement this week in response to the Legislature’s plan to require input from GF budget chairs in the spending of $1.8 billion in federal coronavirus stimulus money.
“I have never desired to control a single penny of this money, and if the Legislature feels so strongly that they should have that authority, I yield to them both the money and the responsibility to make good decisions — in the light of day where the people of Alabama know what is happening,” Ivey stated.
An informal “wish list” for the federal money was published by the Alabama Daily News. It included $800 million for the expansion of broadband access, $100 million for corrections, $78 million for mental health, $50 million for the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and $30 million for Hudson Alpha. The list also included $200 million for a new State House and Capitol renovations, which drew criticism despite broad agreement that current legislative facilities hinder public participation. It is unclear whether spending for items on the wish list would be allowed under federal law.
While the discussions related to the stimulus funding continue between the Legislature and governor’s office, major provisions of the GF budget are expected to remain unchanged.
Under the plan, the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries would receive almost $15 million, including new appropriations for the North Alabama Agriplex, $100,000; Industrial Hemp Program, $130,000; Sweet Grown Alabama state agricultural brand, $250,000; and Farm to School, $120,000. Funding for the Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) program would increase $650,000 to $4 million. The Morgan County Farmers Market Authority would see a $300,000 increase to $350,000.
Funding for the Concentrated Animal Feed Operations (CAFO) program at the Alabama Department of Environmental Management was preserved at $575,000. The Alabama Forestry Commission (AFC) would receive an additional $1.6 million for a total of almost $10.4 million. AFC appropriations include $200,000 for the Forest Worker Institute and $1.7 million for rural and community fire protection.
The Soil and Water Conservation Committee would receive $2.9 million, including more than $81,000 in matching funds for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program to increase on-farm irrigation, and more than $350,000 in matching funds for the Feral Swine Program.
The largest GF increases were for corrections, Medicaid, mental health and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Anticipated pay raises for state employees fell victim to the COVID-19 economic downturn. Visit lsa.state.al.us for more details.