MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) – Gov. Kay Ivey laid out what she called a “bold vision for the future of Alabama” during her annual State of the State address Tuesday evening, given in front of legislators and guests inside the Old House Chambers of the state Capitol.
“I am a firm believer that for Alabama there is no mountain too steep to climb and no dream that is unattainable,” the governor explained. “Over the last four years, we have proved that to be the gospel truth by coming together to solve some of the state’s toughest challenges.”
Ivey touched on familiar topics in her address, a summary of the state’s condition traditionally given on the first day of the regular legislative session. She addressed the state’s troubled prison system, noted ongoing efforts to improve the state’s roads, and touched on portions of her budget plan, which proposes pay raises for teachers and state employees.
“This evening, I renew my commitment to you that we will not only continue tackling old problems,” the governor explained. “We will work together as Alabamians to find new solutions so that our state is the best place to live, work and raise a family for years to come.”
Ivey’s first topic of discussion in her 2022 address is one that has troubled the state for decades: prisons.
“I promised to address the issues facing our corrections system once and for all,” the governor stated, “and I have said that to make progress, we must first replace our costly and crumbling facilities.”
Ivey’s initial solution involved the development of private prisons the state would manage as part of a multi-billion dollar lease, but that agreement later collapsed under pressure from opponents and the subsequent withdrawal of support for the controversial plan by financial institutions.
The failure led lawmakers to mull other possibilities, and, following a special session of the legislature, controversial legislation was approved that called for the state to build several mega-prisons that would be funded partly through hundreds of millions of dollars from the American Rescue Plan, federal legislation aimed at providing COVID-19 relief.
There is a push to block the state’s use of the funds for prison construction, but Ivey and other state officials believe the plan is on firm legal ground. A report as late as this week indicates a belief the new law does not break federal rules.
ROADS AND PORTS
Infrastructure such as roads and ports are critical to the state’s economic success, and Ivey has made them a priority in her administration.
“I promised that our roads would be the envy of the nation,” she said, while admitting the work is “far from over.”
The Rebuilt Alabama Act has pushed new funding into projects covering nearly every county in the state, the governor said.
“We are delivering on decades talked-about projects like The West Alabama Corridor, which will connect Mobile all the way to Tuscaloosa with a four-lane highway. We are tackling other needed projects to increase capacity like six-laning I-10 in West Mobile from Theodore to Irvington. And tonight, I am proud to announce that we will be widening I-59 from Chalkville Mountain Road to I-459, in east Jefferson County near Trussville, from four lanes to six lanes. Thanks to Rebuild Alabama, we are also making improvements to Alabama’s Deepwater Port in Mobile. With the current global supply issues, having an international resource in the Port of Mobile is ever more critical. As a matter of fact, our exports are up almost 25%.”
BUDGET PROPOSALS, INCLUDING RAISES
As the legislative session gets underway, Ivey is urging lawmakers to make allocation of money a priority for projects like statewide broadband, water and sewer infrastructure, and to invest funding into hospitals and nursing homes.
“In my budget proposals, we will fully fund our rainy-day accounts,” the governor said. “We will pay down our debts. We will make robust investments that will pay long-term dividends to the state.”
Ivey is also proposing a bonus for retired state employees and 4% raises for both state employees and teachers.
“As we prepare our budgets for any possible events in our nation’s economy, today, Alabama’s economy is rock solid,” Ivey said. “Our preliminary numbers for 2021, even despite all of the curveballs we have been thrown, are looking strong. It is projected that Alabama saw investments totaling $5.4 billion with some 9,000 new jobs created. I predict to you tonight – in fact, I am confident – that our final numbers will be even bigger.”
Ivey, who started her career as a high school civics teacher, said “Despite the fact Alabama led other states in getting kids back in the classroom, last year during this occasion, I called on our local school districts to work with community partners to close the learning gap. That is why tonight, I am proud to propose funding for after school programs I know will go a long way in getting our students on track for success.”
She noted the need to collect useful data and to begin implementing the Alabama Literacy Act. She’s also supporting legislation that will create a Math Task Force to help recruit teacher and to support struggling students.
Ivey says under a partnership between the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and KultureCity, every ALEA trooper is now trained to be sensory-inclusive, a first in the nation.
“I am proud that my Administration, with the support of the Legislature, is doing more to make significant improvements in mental health care than any since Governor Lurleen Wallace in the 1960s,” the governor explained before proposing a $12 million investment for two more mental health crisis centers in the state.
After Ivey’s address, state Sen. Bobby Singleton gave a response as a Democrat. He said while there are some issues the two parties disagree on, he sees bipartisan support for many others, including pay raises for teachers and state employees.
However, he said Democrats still have concerns about the governor’s plan to address the prison crisis. He said building new prisons is not enough, and lawmakers should work on fixing the violent culture within existing prisons.
Singleton said while Democrats support much of what Ivey talked about in her speech, there are other Republican agenda items they will oppose this legislative session, including a proposal to do away with conceal carry gun permits.
Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Reed issued the following statement:
“I was proud to hear Governor Ivey discuss the work we’ve done together this quadrennium to tackle Alabama’s most pressing challenges and ensure Alabama’s opportunities can be seized by hardworking families in every corner of our state,” stated Reed. “As we start the 2022 Regular Session of the Legislature, my colleagues and I are more determined than ever to find meaningful and conservative solutions that will make Alabama the best place to live, worship, work, and raise a family for years and years to come. We are ready to get to work investing federal recovery dollars, passing sustainable balanced budgets, and addressing issues that are important to Senators’ districts.”
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