MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Republican leader of the Alabama Senate said Wednesday that the state’s coronavirus relief funds will not be used to build a new Statehouse, putting to rest an idea that had created an immediate backlash.
Spending $200 million for a new Statehouse was on a list, along with telemedicine and expenses related to the pandemic, that legislative leaders sent the governor of potential uses for the state’s $1.8 billion in CARES Act funding. A spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh said the Statehouse idea is now off the table.
“We now have guidance that makes it clear that the funds could not be used to build a new State House. It should also be made clear that this list represented the first draft of potential uses for these funds as a starting point for discussion,” Marsh spokesman Will Califf said in a statement.
Marsh last week defended the idea of at least discussing Statehouse construction. Marsh said Saturday that his priority is improving rural broadband access to better enable distance learning and telemedicine during the pandemic. But he said the Statehouse construction idea could be discussed if funds are left over.
“Are there reasons to build a new Statehouse? Yes, there are. Should it be at the top of the list? I cannot say that. But I will tell you it should be part of the discussion,” he said. Marsh added that there is a mold problem and design issues at the Statehouse that hinder public access, particularly during the virus restrictions.
Republican Gov. Kay Ivey and the GOP-controlled legislature have had a rare disagreement over the state’s $1.8 billion in coronavirus relief funds.
It was the governor who first disclosed some lawmakers had floated the idea of Statehouse construction with the funds.
Ivey said last week that she will not call a special session on spending the funds until lawmakers provide a detailed plan. On Saturday, Ivey said she wagered, “99 percent of the Legislature – from both chambers and in both parties – didn’t even know that a ‘wish list’ was being put together on how to spend the CARES Act money.”
“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 said.
The current Alabama Statehouse building, which stands across the street from the Capitol, was constructed in 1963 and originally housed the Alabama Highway Department. The Legislature moved into the building in the mid-1980s while the Alabama Capitol was being renovated. It was supposed to have been a temporary arrangement, but lawmakers stayed in the building after the Capitol renovation was complete.