Using COVID-19 money for new State House should still be discussed, Ala. lawmaker says

Sen. Del Marsh said a new State House should still be in the running after first using COVID-19 money for other priorities.

How state plans to use CARES Act money

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Alabama leaders will determine how approximately $1.78 billion in CARES Act money should be used. However, the ideas for where that money could go are turning heads.

There is some pushback over a list of ideas from some lawmakers that includes $200 million to build a new State House and renovate the State Capitol.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, spoke with the media Saturday. He said Gov. Kay Ivey requested a list of ideas for the money be created. Marsh said he created an initial list, and House and Senate leadership came to Montgomery to discuss it.

Marsh said if there is leftover COVID-19 money a new State House should be part of the discussion instead of sending the money back to the federal government.

“And I would leave it on there to be discussed,” he said.

The State House building was originally used for the Highway Department. It was retrofitted in the 1960s to be temporarily used as a place for lawmakers to meet.

“It has many issues, as you all know, including mold issues,” he said. "It also has issues with with access as we see during this pandemic where we have [the media] up here in the gallery. We have no public access.”

Other items on the list include $800 million to expand broadband, and $100 million for new prisons, as well as repaying emergency expenses related to COVID-19.

See the full list below:

An informal document listing out projects used with COVID-19 money.
An informal document listing out projects used with COVID-19 money. (Source: Governor's office)

Last week, Gov. Kay Ivey reprimanded lawmakers for considering $200 million for a new State House.

“I have already seen one ‘wish list’ that includes a new $200 million statehouse for the Legislature. To me, that is totally unacceptable and not how President Trump and Congress intended for this money to be spent,” Ivey said in a statement.

There is tension between state lawmakers and the governor over who should control that money. The governor said last Thursday the Trump Administration intended for governors to use that money.

But some state lawmakers, including Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, believe the state constitution puts the nearly $2 billion in their hands. Albritton said he took part in the meeting where the list was created.

“Our form of government always needs to have more eyes that’s involved with public money dispersal. That’s the way the Constitution is set up,” Albritton said. “I mean, we always have had that fight. We’re simply trying to implement a system that’s open, where everyone has a say in it and is decided openly and everyone has a play in it.”

Ivey said during a Friday press conference she did not want a “penny” of the money.

Even with the governor’s comments, the legislature passed the General Fund budget giving the governor access to $200 million of the CARES Act money. The governor’s office said Tuesday they are thoroughly reviewing the budgets and will leave all options on the table.

Ivey said she wants a detailed list of what the money would be used for before calling lawmakers into a special session to divvy up the money.

“For whatever reason the governor is angry, apparently. I can send a list to the governor," He said. “But that will not be the final list because the legislature and the governor will make that decision. So all I can do is send a list of her of suggestions of things to talk about in a special session and ask that she bring us back.”

Lawmakers said they are waiting on more guidance from the federal government on what they can use that money for.

“There’s some question marks there as to whether or not it would even fit in the criteria of the needs for this Coronavirus and, and what, what we need to pay for,” said Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Huntsville.

“There’s probably gonna be several list that’s going to be out and at this point, the house wouldn’t want to speak on any items on that list until we’ve got more information as to what direction we need to go with,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, said the money should first be used for more testing, stockpiling ventilators, and PPE for the general population and hospitals. Then a new state house could be considered.

“We got to make sure that we do all of those things that are necessary to protect the public,” he said. “If money then is left to do that, then I don’t have a problem if we’ve adequately funded what we need to do for COVID-19, not just for right now, but moving forward."

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