Plan for earmark-free state budget passes Senate panel

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A bill by Sen. Gerald Dial to unify the Alabama general fund and education budgets moved forward in the Senate Tuesday, as the finance and taxation committee gave a favorable report to Senate Bill 502. The proposal would allow voters to decide whether to establish a single state budget and remove any recommendations or limits on how funds within that budget should be spent.

During the committee meeting Tuesday, Dial said that without the practice of earmarking, or placing limits on how funds are spent within the budget, Alabama lawmakers might have a different set of funding decisions to make this session.

“I’ve heard it said that one of the problems we’ve got in this state is that we’ve got earmarking,” Dial said. “We’ve got almost $3 billion in Heritage Trust Fund. Just think what we could do (with that money). Without earmarks, there’s enough funding in this state to fund government for more than five or 10 years.”

With just five days left in the regular session, lawmakers may run out of time to pass SB 502 this year. However, House Speaker Mike Hubbard has already announced plans to form a Commission on Earmarking and Budget Reform to study the state budget process, including earmarking, appropriations, spending oversight, and the fact that Alabama is one of only three states with two separate budgets.

In a prepared statement issued Monday, Hubbard said the commission will make recommendations “to provide much-needed flexibility in the budgeting process.”

That commission is expected to issue its findings before the start of the 2016 legislative session.

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