General Fund budget expected in Senate committee

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Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, seen here on Sept. 30, 2013, chairs the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee.  (Montgomery Advertiser, Lloyd Gallman)

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, seen here on Sept. 30, 2013, chairs the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee. (Montgomery Advertiser, Lloyd Gallman)

A Senate committee this morning is expected to take up the 2015 General Fund budget, which pays for most non-education funding in the state.

As passed out of the House of Representatives earlier this month, the $1.8 billion budget provides a $70 million boost for Medicaid, effectively level-funds the state’s troubled Corrections system and makes a pay raise for state employees unlikely.

Discussions over the budget have focused particularly on Corrections. The Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka is currently under federal investigation; a U.S. Department of Justice report released in January found state violated inmates’ Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment. DOJ said inmates at the prison live in “a toxic environment with repeated and open sexual behavior,” including sexual abuse and harassment.

Lawmakers have said that they plan to provide more money to Corrections, possibly in earmarks specifically targeted to address the situation at Tutwiler.

The budget includes about $22 million for a four percent pay raise for state employees; however, that money can only be released if the General Fund shows greater-than-expected growth in its revenues. The perpetually troubled budget gets its funding from about three dozen revenue sources, most of which post flat growth year-over-year, and a pay raise is unlikely unless lawmakers specifically budget for it.

The Alabama Medicaid Agency, which gets over a third of the funding from the General Fund — and covers about a fifth of Alabama’s residents — had requested $700 million for 2015, an increase of about $85 million over the current year. The House version, reflecting the budget submitted by Gov. Robert Bentley in January, funds it to $685 million. Dr. Don Williamson, who is overseeing attempts to transform the Medicaid Agency, has said they can make up the difference with carryover money and new ways of acquiring prescrition drugs.

– posted by Brian Lyman

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