With the legislative session half completed, Alabama lawmakers have a pretty good feeling about where things stand.
In a Zoom call Monday, Dist. 8 Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, and Alabama House Majority Leader Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, touted low unemployment numbers, healthy budgets, improved deployment of COVID-19 vaccines and an expanded focus on addressing the mental health needs of students.
They encouraged Alabama companies to take full advantage of federal funding for infrastructure projects such as expanding broadband availability. The said the Rebuild Alabama program has finally equipped counties with matching funds to move projects forward.
“We’ve got a lot of good, positive things happening in our state,” Ledbetter said. “I think the growth ahead of us will be a lot like before the pandemic. Alabama is one of only five states that is starting to turn back the economy to how things were.”
“Alabama has been in a state of emergency since March 13, 2020, yet when we ended our last fiscal year in September, we had 5% growth overall in our budgets,” Livingston said. “The last abstract I saw projected 11% growth, so it is fantastic what’s happening. The American Rescue Plan is going to dump about $4.3 billion into Alabama, with part of that going to local cities and counties.”
The state will receive about $2.1 billion, counties will get $951 million and municipalities will share $779. The massive aid package is primarily aimed at helping cities recover from pandemic-related budget cuts. Half is expected to come by mid-May, with the other coming no more than a year later. The local governments have until 2024 to spend the money. Livingston said cities and counties can consult with the Alabama League of Municipalities.
The state’s General Fund and Education Trust Fund are the largest they’ve ever been as the House and Senate fine-tune both for passage.
Ledbetter noted that several of the people on the conference call hosted by the Fort Payne Chamber of Commerce and DeKalb County Economic Development Authority had likely either gotten vaccinated for COVID-19 or would soon as the age of eligibility lowers to 55 and the available supply of vaccines increases.
“While some of it has been kind of a tactical nightmare, we are finally getting vaccines available to folks,” Livingston said. He reminded everyone that the pandemic is still very dangerous and everyone needs to continue to be careful.
Addressing mental health, Ledbetter said it is hard to believe they’ve added 102 mental health professionals to the state’s schools to address difficult issues that have led to so much tragedy and hardship in recent years. The University of Montevallo is expanding its curriculum to encourage more people to meet the need for trained mental health professionals. Livingston said the state has been blessed to have Ledbetter take the lead on this issue.
Livingston also said that economic development bills that were expiring was a top priority for the legislative session ending May 17 because such measures keep Alabama competitive with its neighboring states in the southeast. He touted action to exempt stimulus funding from state taxation and prevent anyone from filing frivolous lawsuits due to COVID-19.