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Alabama’s budget basics
According to the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO), Alabama’s total expenditures in fiscal year (FY) 2021 were $31.7 billion, including general funds, other state funds, bonds, and federal funds. NASBO reported that total expenditures across all states in FY 2021 were $2.7 trillion, ranging from $4.7 billion in Wyoming to $512.8 billion in California.
Each state allocates spending and taxes differently among different levels of governments, and local governments often administer programs with state funds, so combined state and local government data show a more complete picture of individual benefits and contributions when comparing states.
Per the US Census Bureau, Alabama’s combined state and local direct general expenditures were $43.0 billion in FY 2019 (the most recent year census data were available), or $8,768 per capita. (Census data exclude “business-like” activities such as utilities and transfers between state and local governments.) National per capita direct general expenditures were $10,161.
Alabama’s largest spending areas per capita were elementary and secondary education ($1,667) and public welfare ($1,620). The Census Bureau includes most Medicaid spending in public welfare but also allocates some of it to public hospitals. Per capita spending is useful for state comparisons but is an incomplete metric because it doesn’t provide any information about a state’s demographics, policy decisions, administrative procedures, or residents’ choices.
Alabama’s combined state and local general revenues were $43.9 billion in FY 2019, or $8,937 per capita. National per capita general revenues were $10,563. Alabama uses all major state and local taxes. After federal transfers, Alabama’s largest sources of per capita revenue were charges ($2,244), such as state university tuition and highway tolls, and general sales taxes ($1,123).
Governor Kay Ivey, a Republican, was elected in 2018 with 59 percent of the vote. The next gubernatorial election is in 2022.
Republicans control both the House of Representatives (77 Republicans to 28 Democrats) and Senate (27 Republicans to 8 Democrats), with veto-proof majorities in both houses. Control of the governor’s mansion and each house of the legislature gives Republicans a trifecta in Alabama. The entire legislature is up for election in 2022 because both representatives and senators serve four-year terms.
Alabama’s budget institutions, rules, and constraints
Alabama uses an annual budget. The legislature must pass a balanced budget and is prohibited from carrying a deficit into the following year. There are no further tax and expenditure limits. Alabama does limit its total authorized debt (but not debt service).
(Note: Some states have informal budget institutions that constrain overall spending growth or a specific expenditure’s growth.)
Alabama’s current budget
Alabama enacted its FY2022 budget in May 2021. The enacted budget included $7.7 billion in Education Trust Fund spending and $2.5 billion in general fund spending. (Alabama and Utah are the only states with separate education and general fund budgets. NASBO combined the two under “general fund spending” when describing Alabama’s recent expenditure totals.) According to the governor, Education Trust Fund spending increased by 6.3 percent and general fund spending increased by 3.8 percent over the previously enacted budget.
Under the American Rescue Plan, Alabama will receive $2.1 billion in direct state fiscal aid and $1.4 billion in local government aid from the federal government. As of January 2022, Alabama had spent part of its state ARP funds on public safety and public health programs.
According to NASBO, Alabama’s recent expenditure totals (general fund spending/total spending, including federal transfers) were:
FY 2021: $9.4 billion/$31.7 billion
FY 2020: $10.2 billion/$31.6 billion
FY 2019: $9.0 billion/$28.9 billion
For more on Alabama’s budget, see
Alabama’s economic trends
Alabama’s per capita income (per the Bureau of Economic Analysis) was $48,608 in 2021, ranking 48th among the states. It was below both the national average of $63,444 and the Southeast regional average of $56,118. The state’s median household income (five-year estimate) was $52,035 in 2020, ranking 45th among the states and below the national average of $64,994. Alabama’s poverty rate was 16 percent in 2020 (five-year estimate), above the national rate of 12.8 percent.
Although Alabama’s averages tell a story about the entire state, Alabama is composed of diverse localities. For example, the city of Bessemer’s median household income was $30,284, and its poverty rate was 25.9 percent; the city of Mountain Brook’s median household income was $152,646, and its poverty rate was 4.3 percent.
Alabama’s unemployment rate historically tracks the national rate. The state’s rate was slightly above the national average following the Great Recession, but it has closely tracked the US rate for the past few years. (See how COVID-19 is affecting state employment and earnings data.)
Unemployment rates (like other economic indicators) often vary significantly by race and ethnicity. In Alabama, the average unemployment rate in 2021 was 3 percent for white residents, 5.6 percent for Black residents, and 1.5 percent for Hispanic or Latino residents. (This is preliminary data. See the 2020 data for a more detailed breakdown of state unemployment rates by race and ethnicity.)