Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh on Saturday supported the proposed use of federal CARES Law money for the new State Building, although he stressed that expanding broadband access in Alabama would be a higher priority.
Republican leaders from the Alabama Senate answered questions on Saturday about the CARES Act proposal that Governor Kay Ivey dismisses as a “wish list” in a governor’s statement released on Wednesday.
Marsh said he helped develop the list at Ivey’s request. He said that was the starting point for discussions on how the country could spend the $ 1.8 billion sent by Congress to the country to help the COVID-19 pandemic.
Marsh told reporters on April 28 that the state must investigate the possibility of spending up to $ 800 million in funding for the CARES Act for broadband access. Marsh said that would be justified because the pandemic had drawn new attention to the value of broadband for virtual education and telemedicine. MPs have been working on broadband expansion laws for several years.
“My biggest problem is broadband across the state,” Marsh said. “I think if we had it, our children would be educated today regardless of the school situation, telemedicine could exist in every corner of the state, including rural Alabama. And I will support that going forward. “
The rural broadband proposal is one of 16 items in the list of proposed uses that will depend on meeting federal guidelines for the use of the money. Last on the list is $ 200 million for the new State Building.
Alabama State House was built in 1963 for what was then called the State Highway Department and was installed to function as a State House.
“This has a lot of problems, as you know, including mold problems,” Marsh said. “This also has problems with access as we saw during this pandemic. We do not have public access. We cannot allow the DPR to function normally because they must be divided. So, is there a reason to build a new State Building? Yes there is. If that top of the list. I can’t say that. But I will tell you, it must be part of the discussion. And I will leave it there for discussion. “
Among other proposals on the list are $ 75 million to replace the General Fund for COVID-19 expenditures, $ 100 million for state agency expenditures needed to maintain operations during the pandemic, $ 25 million for supplies, equipment, and resources needed to prepare new outbreaks. the virus, and $ 100 million for the state prison system to reduce the density of prisoners and the risk of being exposed to prisoners and correctional officers.
In his statement on Wednesday, Ivey said the Trump administration did not intend the CARES Act to fund projects such as the new State Building.
Today, asked about Marsh’s opinion that the governor requested the list, Press Secretary Ivey Gina Maiola said: “Governor Ivey has had many discussions with the legislative leadership about the ongoing health crisis, but he certainly never asked for a list of pets. project. “
MPs say they are still waiting for clear guidance on how the CARES Law money can be used.
The issue of who will make spending decisions in Alabama arose on Thursday when Ivey sent his statement, saying he would give lawmakers $ 1.8 billion in control but said he would demand full accounting. Legislators hope the decisions will be issued at a special session later this year.
This week, they passed a law that allocates $ 200 million from $ 1.8 billion for the governor to pay the faster costs caused by COVID-19. Ivey has not said whether he will sign the bill into law.
Legislators returned on May 18 to complete a regular legislative session, which was postponed for almost two months by the pandemic.
House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, said he saw and discussed the list at a meeting with Marsh and other lawmakers but did not help develop it.
The speaker said he hoped lawmakers would be able to work with Ivey to develop plans to spend the CARES Act money that would be written off in special sessions, similar to how lawmakers passed the state budget originally proposed by the governor.
“I want the governor and his staff, who have done a great job in trying to deal with this pandemic and do what we can to keep the country moving, I want to see it gather with experts and let’s get a clear definition of how we can spend that dollar and then for him to provide funding to the legislature and how we need to spend it, “said McCutcheon.
“And then, let’s go through the normal budgeting process with House and Senate, and let’s share with members and let’s get input from people, if you want, and let’s spend money in ways that need to be spent.”
Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensoro, said he was not present at the meeting when the list was discussed and knew nothing about it. He said he would not rule out spending the CARES Act money on certain projects but said the first priority should be to increase testing and stockpile of personal protective equipment and other resources needed to control the current outbreak and possible revival of the virus later.
“We need to hoard PPE and masks for the general population and for first responders in hospitals,” Singleton said. “We have to make sure we do everything necessary to protect the public. And if money is then allowed to do that, then I have no problem if we fund enough what we need to do for COVID-19, not just for now, but moving forward. Because I think we are looking for a vaccine for 18 months or more. And it might take another year before everyone can get the vaccine. “
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