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Budgets focus of 2018 session

Legislators hope to finish work by spring break

The Alabama legislature plans to tackle budgets first when it convenes for the 2018 General Session on Jan. 9, and to adjourn soon after finishing budgets.

Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, and Sen. Jimmy Holley, R-Elba, discussed the upcoming session and listened to suggestions from constituents in a town hall meeting Thursday night in Andalusia.

Jones said one of the first issues to be addressed will be stabilizing the state’s General Fund, adding it is a particular area of expertise for Holley.

“The General Fund budget (for 2018), we believe is balanced,” Holley said. “We’ve got a $1.85 billion General Fund budget we balanced again without any new resource revenues.”

The budget was constructed with $93 million set aside for Medicaid, which legislators expect will expect to such a degree that the funds will be needed. A consideration for the coming year will be funding for ALL Kids, a health insurance program for children funded by the federal CHIP program.

Federal funding expired in September, and Congress had not acted to fund the program, which provides health insurance at a reduced cost to approximately 9 million children nationwide, including 717 in Covington County. Congress extended CHIP funding Thursday afternoon in its stopgap funding measure, but only for a limited time.

If Congress does not fund the program, Holley said, he anticipates the state will be asked to do so.

“As a budget question, it comes down to who wins? Is it children needing health care or locking up prisoners who might be a danger to society.”

Holley said the state can’t afford to provide the coverage without federal funds.

“But we can’t afford not to fund it either,” he said.

County Commission Chairman Greg White asked if a gasoline tax might pass in 2018. The Association of County Commissions last year asked for a new gas tax with proceeds to be pledged to repay a bond issue which would be used in the short term to repair roads and bridges. The measure failed in the legislature.

Jones said he does not expect a gas tax proposal to be considered in the early part of the session, and added that state officials are watching to see if the federal government does a stimulus program for infrastructure before moving forward.

Commissioner Kenneth Northey said he feels like the issue was killed by legislators from more urban areas of the state.

But Jones and Holley said legislators from those areas are dealing with Interstate highways in serious need of maintenance, and also are concerned about funding for roads.

Holley said, “What we do will have a lot to do with what Congress does about infrastructure. We expect they will be expeditiously spurring infrastructure programs to stimulate the economy.”

LBW president Dr. Herb Riedel asked for consideration of a bond issue the two-year college system plans to propose, also to address infrastructure issues.

“The system has done a facilities study, and will be presenting a request for a bond issue that is very much needed,” he said.

Jones, who chairs the agenda-setting Rules Committee in the House of Representatives said it is his hope and goal that the state budgets will be completed by the 20th session day, and the session will adjourn when the legislature leaves for spring break.