Republican state senators in Alabama are considering using federal coronavirus relief funds to foot the bill for a new statehouse, the Associated Press reported on Saturday.
Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh sent a wish list of priorities to Gov. Kay Ivey for spending the $1.8 billion in relief from the CARES Act, federal funding meant to help states deal with the current coronavirus crisis.
The list included using $200 million to build a brand new Statehouse. That amount is eight times more funding than the $25 million suggested for purchasing supplies and equipment to prepare for another outbreak.
Marsh defended using federal aid meant for coronavirus relief to build himself and his colleagues' new offices, saying the current statehouse "has many issues, as you know, including mold issues."
Marsh said that using federal aid to build the statehouse was not his top priority and should only be considered if there are leftover funds. He said the priority for such leftover funds should be using them to expand rural broadband access across the state.
Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, a Democrat, told Alabama.com that he was not a part of Marsh's meeting and had no knowledge about any priority list.
"We need to stockpile PPEs (personal protective equipment) and masks for the general population and for first responders in hospitals," Singleton said. "We've got to make sure we do all of those things that are necessary to protect the public."
House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels House, a Democrat, criticized Marsh's suggestion.
"It is unconscionable that the legislature would spend the people's money, meant to address the incredible hardships this pandemic has wrought on our workers, families, and state, on pork and pet projects," House said in a statement to the AP.
Ivey, a fellow Republican, also criticized the suggestion by Marsh.
"There are tens of thousands of Alabamians — probably a lot more — that are truly hurting, and they don't care one bit about petty political games being played in Montgomery," Ivey told the AP.
Marsh did not respond to a request for comment.
Marsh's suggestion came after weeks of Republican criticism of so-called "blue state bailouts."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell publicly complained about the possibility of federal aid going to Democratic-controlled states, preferring they go bankrupt rather than take assistance from the federal government.
"My guess is their first choice would be for the federal government to borrow money from future generations to send it down to them now so they don't have to do that," McConnell said in mid-April on a conservative radio show. "That's not something I'm going to be in favor of."
Donald Trump expressed a similar sentiment, tweeting on April 27, "Why should the people and taxpayers of America be bailing out poorly run states (like Illinois, as example) and cities, in all cases Democrat run and managed, when most of the other states are not looking for bailout help?"
The number of coronavirus cases in Alabama continues to increase. As of Monday morning, nearly 10,000 Alabamians had confirmed coronavirus cases, and 393 people had died.
On Friday, Ivey announced that more businesses in Alabama would be allowed to reopen on Monday, a decision that worried state health experts.
"I am very very concerned about the fact that we do not have decreasing incidence of disease in the community," Dr. Mark Wilson Wilson, a Jefferson County health officer, told WBHM on Friday. "COVID-19 is still with us."
"If everybody just starts acting like it's a normal summer, then I suspect we will see a very bad fall ahead," Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, the director of infectious diseases and the University of Alabama-Birmingham, told WBHM.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.
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