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Chestnut: Special session for budgets ‘almost’ certain

Earlier this week, the Alabama Legislature reconvened for the 2020 session, which had been halted due to the coronavirus outbreak in March, and wasted little time in advancing the body’s top agenda items, including the state’s General Fund budget, which cleared the Alabama Senate Tuesday.

While the budget enjoyed a unanimous vote, 31-0, in the state’s upper legislative chamber, including approval from Alabama Sen. Malika Sanders-Fortier, D-Selma, House Democrats began voicing dissent over plans to quickly approve the budgets before the session even restarted.

House Democrats have claimed that a special session should be called to address the budget so that lawmakers have time to assess exactly how destructive the economic fallout from the pandemic will be, which would put them in a better place to properly mitigate the damage in the state’s budgets, both the General Fund and the Education Trust Fund.

For his part, Alabama Rep. Prince Chestnut, D-Selma, agrees.

“We are at least three months away from being able to gauge the impact of COVID-19 on our future outlook,” Chestnut said. “We are almost certainly going to have a special session, if not sessions, as we react to the fluctuations of revenues.”

Chestnut noted that the first signs of the pandemic’s impact on state pocketbooks are already being seen.

“April sales tax collection is lower [and] income tax receipts are lower, but we will not get a full picture until after mid-July,” Chestnut said. “The expectation is that the major impact to the budgets will be seen in some may receipts.”

Chestnut added that lodging tax revenues across the state are expected to be “terribly low,” as people have stayed away from the hospitality industry as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

Still, the budget approved by the Alabama Senate has its merits, Chestnut noted.

“Public safety and mental health are being addressed, which is good,” Chestnut said. “These budgets are not designed to cut any essential services.”

Chestnut specifically pointed out that the Senate-approved budget contains an increase of $35 million for the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) and a $26 million bump for the Alabama Department of Mental Health (ADMH).

“At a snapshot, the budget is good,” Chestnut said.