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House General Fund Chairman Says This Year’s Budget is Fairly Sound

House Ways and Means General Fund Committee Chairman Rep. Steve Clouse today said congressional reapproval of the CHIPs insurance program alleviated one budget worry for Alabama’s General Fund, which is in relatively good financial shape this year and next.

Congress in approving a continuing budget resolution on Monday also approved a six-year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program that insures 159,000 Alabama children.

“That was some good news,” the Ozark Republican said at today’s Business Council of Alabama’s Governmental Affairs Committee’s Tuesday briefing, which is held each week during regular legislative sessions.

Next Tuesday’s scheduled briefing speakers are House and Senate Rules Committee chairs, Rep. Mike Jones, R-Andalusia, and Sen. Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, respectively.

Glen Wilkins, director of public affairs and government relations for BCA member Walmart Inc., which sponsored today’s briefing, introduced Rep. Clouse.

Walmart has 143 stores in Alabama – Super Centers, Neighborhood Markets, and distribution centers– and employs about 38,000 associates, Wilkins said. “We know we have a great customer base here,” he said.

The 2018 legislative session is in its third week.

Rep. Clouse said the General Fund budget this year has been helped by several decisions over the past few years such as repayment of $400 million of $584 million in debt using money from the BP-Deepwater Horizon oil spill, a 10,000 decline in the number of Medicaid enrollees, and the stock market’s performance that earns interest on state investments.

There was a $93 million carryforward from last year’s General Fund into this year, which will support Gov. Kay Ivey’s request for a supplemental appropriation of $30 million to the Department of Corrections, and a $50 million new appropriation next fiscal year for additional corrections officers and mental health treatment for inmates.

“Because we have been able to hold the line last year and we have over $93 million, we’ll be able to do that for prisons,” said Rep. Clouse, who added that prisons and the state’s portion of Medicaid account for 60 percent of the General Fund appropriation.

Rep. Clouse said the plan is to pass the 2018-19 General Fund and Education Trust Fund budgets and finish the session early in order to give candidates enough time to campaign for the June political primaries and the November general election, which will determine the Legislature’s makeup for the next quadrennium.

“Things are okay right now, everybody is breathing a sign of relief,” Rep. Clouse said. “But there are storm clouds brewing for 2019.”

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