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Budget dies in Alabama House

As the special session came to a close Tuesday, the Alabama House of Representatives and the Senate were no closer to passing a General Fund budget than they were when the session began on July 13.

On Monday, the Senate approved a $1.65 billion General Fund budget that included major cuts for law enforcement, the judicial system and Medicaid, as well as other state agencies.

The budget passed the Senate by a 19-15 vote, but was crushed in the House later in the day. Of the 94 votes cast in the House, only two were in favor of the Senate’s proposed budget.

Rep. Chris Sells, R-Greenville, said the proposed budget would have hurt Alabamians.

“Those cuts weren’t going to happen at the top (of the agencies) where they need to happen,” he said. “They were going to come at the service level and impact the lives of folks around the state. It just wasn’t a budget we could pass. I’m really frustrated that we didn’t come away with a budget.”

Last week, the House had approved a budget that included a $156 million cut to Medicaid.

Gov. Robert Bentley’s office said he had no comment Monday on the failed attempts to pass a General Fund budget during the special session, which cost taxpayers $400,000.

Many lawmakers felt the special session was called too soon after the regular session ended in June. They felt they needed more time to work on a solution for overcoming a $200 million shortfall in the general fund budget, which pays for most non-education programs in the state.

“We weren’t ready to come back,” House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said. “Obviously we had not completed our work, and we did not have an opportunity to go through all of the different committees and things we put together.”

Had the House approved the Senate’s budget, it’s unlikely that Bentley would have given his approval, as it was very similar to the budget passed by the Legislature during the regular session that Bentley vetoed, creating a need for the special session.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said he believes Bentley should wait until September to call another special session, which will cost taxpayers an additional $400,000.

Sells said he expects the special session to begin in September.

“I think that will give us some time to get together and get this thing figured out,” he said. “Everyone — the governor, the House, the Senate — has got to come together and solve this problem.”

The state must have a budget in place by Oct. 1 when the new fiscal year begins.