The Alabama Legislature convenes for its 2019 regular session next week and so far the most talked about issue probably has been a proposed gasoline tax increase, although a proposed Medicaid expansion has gotten considerable ink lately, as influential groups like the Alabama Hospital Association came out in support of it.
By law, the Legislature can meet 30 legislative days within a 90 calendar day period. Normally, the Legislature is in session Tuesdays and Thursdays, while committees meet Wednesdays.
Alabama has not had a statewide gas tax increase since 1992. Roads and bridges and the infrastructure, in general, need help. According to Wikipedia, Alabama state gasoline tax is 31.04 cents per gallon. That does not include a federal surcharge of 18.4 cents per gallon.
But this is a conservative Legislature, many members of which signed a pledge not to vote for new taxes unless they are approved by a vote of the people; This past weekend, the Alabama Republican Party governing body voted to oppose the tax proposal unless it is made “revenue neutral” — that is, the increase is offset by an equal decrease in an existing tax. Translated, that means taking money from the state Education Fund.
The measure, whether it be for a nickel a gallon or a dime a gallon is expected to have a decent chance to pass because it is believed to have the support in some form from leaders in both houses —House Speaker Mac McCutcheon and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh — as well as Gov. Kay Ivey.
Some lawmakers have even tied the proposal to an “education lottery,” saying that education money could be used to fund the infrastructure improvements and then replaced by lottery proceeds.
A large percentage of Alabama taxes are “earmarked” — meaning revenues are pegged to a specific purpose. Gas taxes, for instance, are earmarked for roads and bridges. And the state income tax — the largest revenue producer in the Education Fund — is constitutionally earmarked for teachers’ salaries.
The education coffers are swelled by so-called “growth taxes” — liens which grow as the economy prospers, like the income and sales taxes. General fund revenues, from which roads and bridges are funded, are more static — like interest on state investments, professional license fees, alcohol taxes and other fees.
Although the gas tax bill has not even been introduced (so the amount per gallon that will be proposed is not set) and may never become law, cities and counties are already arguing over the funds — with each group wanting a bigger share of the pie.
Welcome to another session of the Alabama Legislature.