Over the coming weeks, two major issues are expected to come before the Alabama House of Representatives — a bill that would seek to increase the gas tax and a Judiciary Committee report on and possible articles of impeachment for Gov. Robert Bentley.
In December, the Association of County Commissions of Alabama (ACCA) voted in favor of supporting a 3-cent per gallon tax increase that would fund a $1.2 billion dollar bond issuance for the second iteration of the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program (ATRIP), which enabled Alabama counties and municipalities, including Lee County and the city of Auburn, to launch numerous road and bridge projects over the past several years.
The ACCA estimates the revenue generated for Lee County by the proposed bond issuance would be approximately $29 million, much of which could be paired with federal funds.
The Lee County Commission has voted in favor of the proposed 3-cent gas tax.
The gas tax increase could be higher, though. House District 79 Rep. Joe Lovvorn said he has heard that representatives are considering between a 3- and 6-cent gas tax increase, while House District 38 Rep. Isaac Whorton said he thinks it's going to be 6 cents.
"I think some people are even advocating for 12 (cents)," Whorton said. "I have not seen the bill, so right now I’m kind of in the undecided category. I tend to do that on any bill that I have not actually read."
Lovvorn said that he's received support for an increase for ATRIP-2 funding from the Lee County Commission and the cities of Auburn and Opelika.
He added that if a bill was introduced seeking a 3- to 6- cent gas tax increase that had a sunset provision, he feels he would be supportive of it as an investment in Alabama's infrastructure and as a possible generator of economic development.
"I feel that we’ll have some infrastructure come in from the federal government through the Trump administration, and hopefully that will free up the state to have match funds for any federal dollars that would be coming our way," said Lovvorn, who added that in many areas of the state, "we've kicked the can down the road as far as we can" on repairing bridges and roads. "It’s time to address the issues and make sure our roads and bridges are as safe as possible for our citizens or as viable when it comes to passage for our economic development and our manufacturers that are bringing supplies in over highways."
Whorton said that one concern he has is the outstanding debt the state owes for ATRIP and its possible effect on the general fund.
"We borrowed a little over a billion dollars on that project, and we are due to start paying it back in 2019," Whorton said. "I had a conversation with our budget chairman the other day, the General Fund Budget chair, and I asked him how much that was going to cost us when we finally do start paying back that unfunded bond issue, and he doesn’t know."
Whorton added that he's looking closely at the issue, but that he's in the "undecided category" on a gas-tax increase for ATRIP-2 until "there's an actual bill that I can sink my teeth into."
The primary source for ATRIP projects come for GARVEE bonds, which allow Alabama to access future federal dollars to pay for road and bridge projects that are needed immediately, according to a release from the governor's office. GARVEE bonds provide 80 percent of ATRIP project funding.
The potential impeachment of Gov. Robert Bentley over possible improper campaign expenditures or misuse of state resources as it relates to his alleged affair with former political advisor Rebekah Mason is also expected to come before the House.
Whorton said that he's been told that the House Judiciary Committee will issue a report soon and that the House will have an opportunity to vote before the end of the regular session.
Both Whorton and Lovvorn said they would wait to see the report's findings before deciding whether to support Bentley's impeachment.
"I’m not a I’m-going-to-impeach-no-matter-what kind of guy," Whorton said. "I’m going to look at the evidence, and if there is evidence that law was broken either through improper campaign expenditure or improper use of state resources, then at that point in time, I would look at it and vote yes for impeachment. And if none of that comes out in the investigation, we have the responsibility to be fair."
Lovvorn echoed Whorton's take.
"We’ll make sure all our i's are dotted, all our t's are crossed, and if they find something in there that indicates that we need to move forward, then we’ll be ready," he said. "If there’s reason to move forward, we will; if not, let’s put it behind us and move forward with the real needs of the state."