HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - From education to jobs, infrastructure improvements to space exploration, Gov. Kay Ivey touched on it all Monday during her annual Alabama Update. She also shared her vision for the state moving forward.
The governor took office nearly a year ago and she says she's worked to "steady the ship" and streamline state government.
She addressed key topics before a crowd of hundreds Monday at the Von Braun Center during Huntsville/Madison County Chamber's 2018 Alabama Update.
First on her agenda was signing two key pieces of legislation.
There was the Education Budget, the 2019 budget providing a historic level of funding for the state's educational system. It is the largest investment in education in a decade, the governor said. It supports expanded funding for pre-K, the Alabama Reading Initiative and increased funding for higher-education, all of which were incorporated in the final version of the budget.
Then she signed a bill creating the Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering in Huntsville, a new state wide magnet school. She says the Huntsville area is the perfect spot for it.
"This really is a significant step forward. In addition to this being a high school will attract some of the best and brightest Alabama students, it will also serve as a center for professional developments for our teachers. So I'm honored to sign this bill," she stated.
"STEM technologies and the STEM learning processes are so important for the whole state. I think that's something that we all need to work on and it's going to take a joint effort. It's going to take industry, government. It's going to take all of us putting that together," added Huntsville Mayor and gubernatorial candidate Tommy Battle.
The legislation allows for the school to open and formally begin operation during the fall semester of 2020.
It will be a school for gifted children from 7th-12th grade and it will be located at Research Park .
It will have 300 students with a special curriculum and there will be 150 beds for children who can be boarded from across state.
As far as what's next, Ivey says Alabama's leadership needs to innovative, impactful and intentional moving forward as leaders push for changes to be made on many different levels.
She discussed prison reform which has been a pressing issue in Alabama for years. Ivey says the prison system has been neglected and underfunded for far too long, risking a takeover by the federal courts.
In fact, she says one federal court has found that state prisons are overcrowded and understaffed with worn out, crumbling facilities.
The governor revealed that the state signed a new contract that provides expanded medical and mental health care to inmates.
She also wants a better working environment for correctional officers.
The state has engaged the services of outside firm to help identify staffing and facility needs.
Ivey says previous governors failed at their attempts to properly run prisons or just "kicked the can down the road."
"My friends, this is an Alabama problem that must be solved by Alabama. Alabama has taken a great step with the last general fund budget. The legislator appropriated additional dollars for the Department of Corrections to increase the correctional staff. We have to take charge of this and let Alabama solve this, not the courts," Ivey stated on stage.
The DOC has hired a program management company to recommend the best way forward, whether its construction or renovation or more secure prisons.
Their report is due by the end of June.
It could suggest public/private partnerships, meaning private companies would build new facilities that would be leased to and staffed by Alabama DOC.
After receiving their report, the governor plans to act "thoroughly and expeditiously" based on their recommendations.
The governor also highlighted major infrastructure projects, including work on some of Alabama's major interstates, including I-565.
"My administration has already engaged consultants who as I speak are assessing the potential impact of the Toyota-Mazda plant on this corridor. Widening I-565 is a big task. it will not be completed overnight. It must be studied and plans must be made so we can expand it and build it in the most cost effective manner. I can assure you that improving your commute on I-565 is important and is a priority for this governor. I will see it through. You have my commitment on that," she said as the crowd started clapping.
Battle says budgeting and engineering continue to pose challenges.
"The thing that we have to realize is, if we had the money today to widen I-565, it would be 2028 by the time we were actually riding on that improvement so we need to have some vision and we need to start working on it now so we can one day take care of that problem and in ten years, actually see the solution to that problem," he added.
Battle said as governor, his focus would be on widening of I-65 between Chelsea to north of Prattville, as well as I-10 and I-565.
Ivey says widening of I-65 between Pelham and Alabaster is currently under construction.
One of the big questions posed to Ivey by members of the media was about the governor's race and if she would take part in debates with opponents in the GOP primary.
"My record is an open book just like it is here with you all here today. When those details can be worked out, I'll make myself available whenever I can," she responded.
Battle also fielded questions about going head to head with Ivey in a debate.
"It's paramount on all of us to come out and tell our story about what our vision is for the state, where we want to take the state and how we'll do it. That's part of it," he said. "There's a lot of questions a lot of questions to be answered and the people deserve that."
As ads ramp up with candidates touting what they've made happen for Alabama, reporters asked Ivey who was responsible for the mega Toyota-Mazda plant coming to north Alabama.
"Ideas don't matter, results do. We're proud to have Toyota-Mazda in our great state. It will benefit a lot of people in this great state," Ivey stated.
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