Funding for prisons, schools, mental health facilities and rural health care highlighted Gov. Kay Ivey’s state-of-the-state address Tuesday night, during which she challenged lawmakers to pause gambling legislation until more facts could be gathered.
“I am proud and extremely pleased to report to you tonight that the State of our State is strong and growing,” Ivey said. “We have the lowest unemployment rate in our 200-year history at 2.7 percent. More than 82,000 of our fellow citizens are working today than were working just a year ago.
“At the beginning of last year, economists predicted we would gain 27,000 jobs in 2019. In true Alabama fashion, our economy beat those expectations by gaining nearly 77,000 jobs. That, too, is a record for our state,” she added.
The positive economic numbers Ivey cited led to surpluses for both the General Fund and Education Trust Fund budgets going into the next fiscal year. Ivey said the growth gives Alabama the opportunity to invest in education, public safety and other state services.
“Success breeds success. And there is no better time to think big – and be bold – than now. Our future generations depend on us to do so,” she said.
Ivey renewed her call for three new mega prisons to help address overcrowding criticized by the U.S. Department of Justice. She also wants to build three mental health crisis centers to relieve stress on county jails and local emergency rooms.
On the education front, Ivey proposed an additional $25 million to expand the state’s award-winning First Class Pre-K program by another 193 classrooms. In addition, she recommended a $1 billion bond issue for capital improvements at schools and community colleges. Ivey’s budget proposal also will include a 3% pay raise for education employees and 2% for other state employees.
The governor strengthened her commitment to rural Alabama by pledging to not only expand broadband internet access, but also improve healthcare.
“Currently, some 220,000 Alabamians do not have any wired internet providers where they live. Our efforts will not end until every Alabamian has access through high speed broadband,” Ivey said.
“Another sign of our commitment to improving the lives of those who live in rural Alabama is my full support for a pilot program to incentivize primary care physicians and nurse practitioners to establish services in medically underserved areas,” she added. “I am calling on the Legislature to support my rural health care initiatives which, among other things, will help improve basic primary care in many deserving communities. By encouraging these medical professionals to build a practice in these areas, we can literally transform many small towns throughout the state.”
Alabama Farmers Federation External Affairs Director Matthew Durdin praised Ivey’s support for those who live in the state’s less populated areas.
“Since taking office, Gov. Ivey has worked to ensure rural Alabamians can enjoy the benefits of low employment and economic growth,” Durdin said. “She has not forgotten her rural roots and is helping those areas through improved infrastructure, incentives for job creation and access to essential services.”
Reflecting on last year’s historic Rebuild Alabama legislation, Ivey announced the state has invested $122 million in road and bridge projects from its portion of the new fuel tax during the first six months since it took effect. She also called on the Legislature to fund an additional 50 sworn officers, noting that the number of state troopers has increased 19% under her administration.
Ivey concluded her speech by announcing a task force to research the costs and potential revenue from gambling, including a state lottery. She asked legislators to resist rushing a lottery bill through during the regular session.
“My challenge to the Legislature is: give us some time to get the facts and then, together, we will give the people of Alabama the information they need to make the most informed decision possible,” she said.
Ivey also urged Alabama residents to complete the 2020 Census, noting the state risks losing at least one seat in Congress as well as billions of dollars in federal funding. She reiterated the importance of the Census and other legislative initiatives in her closing statement.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I cannot do this without your help, your partnership and your support,” Ivey said. “Together, let’s make this moment count.”