BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — The 2023 Legislative Session begins Tuesday, and lawmakers have important decisions to make about a large excess of funds in this year’s budget.
Democratic State Rep. Juandalynn Givan said that the ARPA surplus is $1.1 billion and the education trust fund surplus is over $2.5 billion.
Because it’s billions of dollars they’re working with, lawmakers said it’s very important to be transparent with the public and intentional with its distribution.
Rep. Givan said she takes this responsibility very seriously and encourages lawmakers to be a voice for what the public really needs.
She said there are several ways this money could be divided out, but that they should take this opportunity to put the state and citizen’s needs first.
“Let’s come up with common sense programs,” Givan said. “We know where the needs are. These are not needs that have just arisen over night. It’s just like with the issues we fight every day. There is no new needs. These needs will be here the homeless will be with you always school systems will be with you always resurfacing streets- infrastructure will be with you always.”
Democratic Rep. Neil Rafferty said the extra ARPA funds is federal money that must have an approved purpose. He said they’re mainly looking into four different places for allocation: recouping COVID-19 healthcare costs, infrastructure, public health emergency response programs, and the department of labor and unemployment.
Givan said the extra money in the Education Trust Fund could have multiple purposes like a tax rebate. She said the citizens needs should come first.
“I think we can all agree, we want wants best for the state, but then you know how we accomplish that through this process is something up for debate,” Rafferty said.
“Look through the lens of that mother,” Givan said. “Look through the lens of that child. Look through the lens of the least of these, and then sometimes we can be of greater good to those who have elected us and called us for a greater purpose.”
Working to invest in education and the people in our schools is something Rafferty said is very important as well.
He said he would like to see teacher raises to make sure the state’s educators are taken care of. Rafferty also said a dire need to address is the mental health state of our students following the pandemic.
He said programs and services should be provided to help the mental health crisis our youth currently face.
“Providing the services that will be needed and can meet the students where they are in the schools because schools are increasingly becoming in response to the COVID pandemic, not just a place for education, but for a place for a more holistic care for the students as well,” he said.
Overall, Rafferty said the main deciding factor in where the billions in surplus funds go will be sustainability- making sure the money goes towards things that will last long term.