On June 4, 2015 the Alabama State Senate concluded the 2015 regular legislative session. Due to the leadership of Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston), the 2015 session was one of the most productive in recent memory: the Senate passed 450 bills. A total of 360 bills were passed by both the Senate and House of Representatives and sent to Governor Robert Bentley for his signature. But more importantly, the Senate enacted major conservative reforms that will place Alabama on a stronger economic footing.
“The 2015 regular session was very productive. We have continued our work in right-sizing state government and making it efficient for Alabama taxpayers,” Marsh said. “Although we still have work to do, I am proud that we were able to pass a robust Education Trust Fund budget, enact revolutionary reforms in education and innovative incentives for economic development.”
The Senate Republican Caucus made a promise to the people of Alabama to pursue a legislative agenda focused on “Paving a Path for the Future.” Senate Republicans began the session focused on passing bills that would foster job growth, improve educational opportunities for Alabama’s students, and streamline government operations to save taxpayer dollars. During the 2015 regular session, the Senate accomplished these and many other major reforms, including:
- Education Budget – For the first time in many years, the legislature unanimously passed the budget to fund public education in the state. It is balanced, fully-funded, and increases classroom spending by $13 million, with an increased investment of $10 million in Pre-K programs.
- Charter Schools – Alabama became the 43rd state to authorize accountable, public charter schools, which are limited and measurable. This empowers parental choice and means a student’s ZIP code will no longer determine his or her educational opportunities.
- Virtual Schools – Not just something in the distant future, having virtual school policies for every school system puts Alabama at the forefront of education innovation. It empowers local school boards, increases educational opportunities, and improves student engagement.
- Two-Year College Board – Alabama becomes the 33rd state to create an independent board to oversee the two-year college system. This new, already appointed board will focus on strengthening degree certification and workforce development programs, which will result in stronger economic development opportunities.
- Prison Reform – With the federal government threatening a costly takeover of Alabama’s overcrowded prison system, this bold prison reform plan will improve public safety and decrease overcrowding. It should help rehabilitate prisoners and protect taxpayers against a takeover.
- Medicaid Reform – Medicaid is the largest cost item in the General Fund budget. This legislation should save $1.5 billion over the first 10 years according to independent estimates by curbing long-term care costs and increasing home-based care. The result will be better care for our elderly and cost savings for taxpayers.
- Tax Transparency – Alabama gives away more than $2 billion in deductions, exemptions, and credits annually. Now the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Office will be required to generate a public annual report (available online to the public) of where all deductions, exemptions, credits go in the state tax code. The goal is to eventually simplify Alabama’s tax code to make the state more competitive.
- Economic Incentives – In an effort to draw more industry to the state and help Alabama businesses expand, the legislature passed economic incentives to increase job creation opportunities and give Alabama the tools needed to compete with other Southeastern states. Making these new incentives pay-as-you-go protects state revenues.
- Judicial Retirement Reform – By addressing structural issues related to the judicial retirement system, the judicial retirement reform is projected to save several hundred million dollars over 30 years. This reform ensures solvency and protects taxpayers now and in the long-term.
“We are working very hard to reform state government and make it more efficient and accountable. I am confident these reforms will accelerate economic growth across the state and increase the education opportunities our students and families have,” said Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper). “Now, the focus is on fixing the General Fund budget later this summer and making long-term, structural changes to address the problems once and for all. We want a budget that is fiscally responsible, while ensuring that essential services like troopers, mental health, and Medicaid aren’t cut beyond the bone.”
Over the next few months, the Senate Republican Caucus will be working in small study groups to come up with innovative ideas to improve Alabama’s two-budget system, in preparation for a special legislative session that Governor Bentley has said he will call. Before adjourning, the Senate and House passed a General Fund budget that closed a roughly $200 million deficit between state revenues and last year’s expenditures with deep, across-the-board cuts to state agencies. Governor Bentley vetoed the budget.
Senate Republicans look forward to working with Governor Bentley, Senate Democrats, and the House of Representatives to find a long-term solution and pass a fiscal year 2016 General Fund budget that serves the best interests of the people of Alabama.