House approves lean General Fund budget - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

House approves lean General Fund budget

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

After a few hours of debate Wednesday, the Alabama House of Representatives approved a $1.8 billion spending plan for all non-education agencies.

The spending plan for the 2015 fiscal year includes an additional $70 million to pay for the state's Medicaid Agency, the most pressing priority for budget writers.

"We had to level fund Medicaid," said Rep. Steve Clouse, who chairs the Ways and Means General Fund Committee in the House. "If we didn't fully fund it then we would miss out on the two to one federal match that's very important."

Most agencies were funded at or close to similar levels from the 2014 budget.

The next budget priority after Medicaid is the for the Department of Corrections which has been under scrutiny from the federal government due to overcrowding in Alabama's prisons as well as an investigation into allegations of rape and misconduct at the Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka.

Alabama's prisons are among the most crowded in the country, with nearly double the number of inmates for the designed capacity of most prisons.

Lawmakers approved $389 million in spending for Corrections, however the department will also use $7 million in leftover funds from last year, but Rep. Clouse predicted that the budget could change for that agency.

"I've talked with Commissioner {Kim} Thomas about what mandates that he feels the federal government is going to be placing on him…They very possibly may be getting some more funds."

Both Democrats and Republicans agreed that the state needs more revenue, but there was no effort during House debate to even discuss proposals that could raise funds that would support the General Fund.

Instead, the governor's budget proposal and the House approved budget depend on more than $250 million in one-time money, including $145 million that's borrowed from the Oil and Gas Trust Fund, a massive savings account that voters approved to use in 2012.

"We have to figure out a way to raise the revenue we need in order to make government work to protect the citizens, educate the citizens and take care of our children and this budget doesn't do that" said Rep. Patricia Todd, D – Irondale.

Rep. Clouse, R – Ozark, agreed that more money is needed to pay Alabama's bills but added that's not likely to happen this year.

"We need more revenue and that's what the goal is going to be moving forward."

The General Fund now moves to the Alabama Senate for consideration.

Copyright 2014 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.

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