While scores of businesses have been closed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the business of running the state continues.
Alabama Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon was in Montgomery this week to bring two resolutions to the floor to change the rules after Gov. Kay Ivey declared a state of emergency over the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the State Constitution, the clock begins ticking down on a 105-day clock from the first meeting date of the session and, according to McCutcheon, the resolution gives the Legislature more flexibility and freedom to conduct state business before the end of the legislative session on May 18.
They meet again April 28.
“Budgets will be the number one priority and we’re going to try to get the General Fund budget and education budget completed,” McCutcheon said on a teleconference call with the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce this week. “The next priority will be statewide economics and any economic bills dealing with businesses and their economic situations. We’ve got the renewal of the Alabama tax credits we must address, which is very important, and we also have an education supplemental that goes with the education budget.
“We passed the General Fund supplemental, but we didn’t get the education supplemental passed and these are dollars that are ready and available, so we need to get those out.”
Some statistics show reductions in revenue over last year to be 20 to 25 percent. Does he have any revenue projections for 2021?
“We’re constantly monitoring that, and I wish we could put a number on it, but we can’t,” he responded. “It’s too early to tell.
“The CARES Act will be a factor when looking at dollars that will be coming down to the state of Alabama, and it will definitely have an impact on the bottom line; but we’re in a situation where we’re going to approach the budgets from a bare bones perspective, based on last year’s budget.
“Right now, reports coming in from the finance office is that we’re going to be able to finish this fiscal year in good shape, but the future is yet unknown.”
He said they are getting the operating budget up and ready to go before the fiscal year ends. They will readjust those budgets based on a better analysis of the revenue situation whenever they come back in session for the 2021 session.
The third priority is local bills around the state dealing with economic issues; some dealing with new schools; and some of them are economic projects in the local arena.
“They’ve already been advertised so if we do not address them during this session, the advertisement goes away and those bills have to be advertised again,” McCutcheon said. “We are trying to be mindful of the cost to the taxpayers in dealing with the local bills.
“We will also address would-be bills that have passed with either the Senate pending action on the House, or the House pending action on the Senate.”
“Beyond that, we’ll just have to see how much time we have. We’re going to have to just play it day by day.”
McCutcheon said there is time to get these priorities done, but they are in areas in which they simply cannot know for sure what the future holds. The Statehouse is working on a skeleton crew, with most workers working from home. They are doing everything they can to provide a safe environment at the statehouse when they meet April 28.
On a state level, he said Ivey has been reluctant to put down a mandatory shelter in place order because she is respectful of businesses and local governments and how they operate.
“She is also pleased with how people are responding within their communities to try and protect themselves and their families; and would like to keep the information flow going, in hopes that communities and people will make wise choices, try to stay safe, and respect social distancing rules,” he said.
The small business commission is up and running and is launching a website today to help small business owners get the information they need.
Today is also the deadline for small businesses to get all of their information to their local banks, financial advisors, and their accountants so they can be ready when the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) rolls out and monies become available to help small businesses.
“Another challenge we have is of course hospital care,” McCutcheon said. “The Department of Commerce has been working on suppliers in-state and out of state to get Alabama hospitals the personal protection equipment and vital medical devices, like ventilators, they will need. There’s also a robust plan through the Alabama Department of Public Health to organize alternative bed space for patients if needed.
“These are things from the state level that we’re working on and we are learning some valuable lessons as we go through this. No one’s perfect and this thing is so fluid, it changes sometimes by the hour.
“But we’re here and we’re ready to go work, ready to help and do whatever we can to help our communities and especially our people. Our prayers are with everybody – we’re going to make it through this!”