Inside the Statehouse

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Steve Flowers

By Steve Flowers

The 2022 annual regular session of the legislature has begun. It began Jan. 11 and constitutionally can last three and one-half months, which would have it ending at the end of April.

This is the last year of the quadrennium and an election year. Therefore, the legislature will not address any controversial or substantive issues. This has always been the case in Alabama politics. This rule will ring true this year as it has in past years. They will come into session, pass the budgets, then go home to campaign. They may even adjourn early this year, probably the first part of April.

It will be an easy year, budget wise. The General Fund and Special Education Trust Fund will again have growth in revenue. The economy is still percolating from the COVID recovery, especially because of the influx of federal dollars.

Alabama will have received over $4 billion dollars from the Federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) COVID relief money. Almost half has been earmarked and given to schools, counties and cities and will not be allocated by the legislature.

The state received over $500 million in 2021. Most of that, over $400 million, went to build new prisons, which was the most significant achievement last year. There will be approximately $560 million of ARP money coming into Alabama for this year. The legislature will be able to play Santa Claus in an election year. The General Fund Chairmen, Steve Clouse (R-Ozark) in the House and Greg Albritton (R-Escambia) in the Senate, are being lobbied heavily as might be expected. They will be looking at several ways to disburse these federal dollars. The feds like the states to focus on rural broadband expansion, water and sewage projects, and hospitals and nursing homes. It will be a short and successful and non-controversial session.

Gov. Kay Ivey will miss her right arm, Jo Bonner. He has served as a quasi-governor for the past three years. Ivey and Jo have a lifetime bond. They are both from Wilcox County, and like family. This remote rural black belt, southwest Alabama county has spawned Jeff Sessions, Ivey, Judy Bonner and Jo. Sessions, Ivey and Judy are all about the same age. Jo is about 15 years younger and like Ivey’s little brother. Ivey has never not known Jo. He has been the most influential Chief of Staff to a governor in state history. 

In November 2021, it was announced that Jo will become president of the University of South Alabama. He will be the fourth president of the University of South Alabama, which is the third largest university in the state. Jo is perfect for this position. His decade as a congressman from Mobile and his prowess as an economic developer and civic leader coupled with his winning personality will propel the university in Mobile to a regional educational and medical center for Alabama, Mississippi and Northwest Florida. He is revered in Washington. His political connections and persona will make the University of South Alabama a politically powerful institution.

The governor made a wise and prudent move to fill the void left by Jo’s departure from the governor’s office. She made her loyal, dedicated and extremely qualified ally, Liz Filmore, chief of staff. Fillmore had already been functioning as a quasi-chief of staff to Ivey and Jo. 

A few months ago, Ivey adroitly convinced State Representative Bill Poole of Tuscaloosa to become her finance director. Poole is immensely and uniquely qualified for finance director. He served over a decade in the House of Representatives. Eight of those years he chaired the Education Budget Committee and wrote the State Education budget.  He was and still is one of the most universally well-liked and respected legislators in the state. Poole will remain finance director and Filmore will be chief of staff.  They will be part of what Ivey will rely on as her leadership team. The other two members of the four-person team will be Brooks McClendon and Nathan Lindsey, who will be elevated to deputy chief of staff. Ivey along with Jo has run an exemplary ship of state administratively. 

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Flowers may be reached at: www.steveflowers.us.

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