top of page
  • Alex Nelson

The Devil is in the Details

They say the devil is in the details.

When Congress passed the federal CARES Act in late March, each state was allocated billions of dollars to address the unforeseen health and economic impacts of COVID-19. The monies were directed to governors so they could quickly get to work on meeting the needs of their states. The intention was noble, but big egos have little ears... The CARES Act only gives states until the end of the year to spend the money, and it must be spent on expenses directly related to the COVID-19 public health crisis. If it doesn’t meet those criteria, it must be returned to Uncle SAM. So when Governor Ivey asked top lawmakers for recommendations on the best use of Alabama's $1.8 billion relief package, a few senators went to work on a "wish list". Among them was a cool $200 million request to build a new, state of the art Statehouse -- because, the next time a global pandemic strikes, Alabama lawmakers and lobbyists need to be as comfortable as possible... Governor Ivey was not buying it, and neither were the citizens of Alabama. Even though Congress, with the President's blessing, allocated the money to the direct control of Governor Ivey, some legislative leaders wanted that power for themselves. As the legislative body of the state, they had the authority to seize control of every dime -- and they did. The Legislature passed a bill granting Governor Ivey authority to control a mere $200 million of the money. The rest was left up to them. 140 people with varying interests...deciding how to spend $1.8 billion...all before December 30. What could go wrong? After a week of public barbs and political posturing, cooler heads prevailed. Governor Ivey and the Legislature reached a consensus on how the money would be spent -- and who would control it. Ivey was back in the driver's seat, with legislative leaders holding the map. Very soon, local governments, businesses, schools and universities, non-profit organizations, and healthcare facilities across the state will submit requests to the Governor's finance team for funding to assist with COVID-19 related expenses.  All's well that ends well, right? Not so fast...because the devil is in the details. The CARES Act money can now only be spent within the specified "buckets" and spending limits provided by the Legislature. If any adjustments need to be made to the spending plan, the Governor must get the unanimous consent of the House Speaker, the Senate President Pro Tem, and the Chairs of the House and Senate budget committees. Sure. The Governor is back in the driver’s seat, but who’s holding the map? Not a single woman. Not a single person of color. Women account for 51.5 percent of Alabama’s population. Yet, women comprise nearly 58 percent of COVID-19 cases in the state. African-Americans account for 41.9 percent of COVID-19 cases and 43.8 percent of COVID-19 related deaths in Alabama. They only make up 27 percent of the state’s population. The people holding the map almost certainly won’t guide the Governor towards Medicaid expansion, despite the fact that up to 360,000 citizens stand to benefit from the program. As one state leader said, there’s just no “mood” for it, but $200 million for a new Statehouse? Sure. Add it to the list.

bottom of page