By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—On Wednesday the Democratic House Caucus announced its 2013 legislative agenda at a press conference at the StateHouse.
House Minority Leader Craig Ford (D-Gadsden), took the podium flanked by his fellow house members.
Ford said that the Caucus had wanted to “heard a little bit about what the Governor was proposing last night,” before offering minority agenda.
Ford said that, they democrats were disappointed with much of the Governor’s proposals but that they would work with the him on, “jobs and economic growth.”
The Minority leader said he did not understand why the republicans were bragging about the money they are saving when it had been accomplish by laying off, “four thousand state employees. He also took issue with the fact they the GOP had, “borrowed from the tax payers of Alabama four hundred seventy million dollars.”
Ford, challenged the republican plan to pay back the money borrowed from the trust fund over a 15 year period. “Most of the people who are making this promise will be long gone by then,” said Ford.
Representative Joe Hubbard, (D-Montgomery) said “I think it ironic that Representative Love brought the original bill, [that raided the trust fund] which the Governor signed and now Representative Love is bringing a bill that authorizes and optional pay back of this same four hundred and seventy million dollars in fifteen years, that’s five million dollars at a time, with no interest.”
Hubbard, expressed disbelief that the GOP would borrow from the state’s savings account and then offer no plan to pay interest on the loan.
The plan offered by the democrats is to pass legislation that would increase the tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products by $1. The increase is expected to generate $227 million annually in new revenue. The bill, if passed in a statewide referendum vote, would require all funds from the tax be allocated to the Alabama Trust Fund until the $437 million borrowed from the constitutional amendment passed was paid back in full with interest. According to the democrats plan, the Trust Fund must be paid back within six years. After the Trust Fund has been paid back, all revenue generated from the tax would be appropriated to the General Fund Budget exclusively for Alabama’s Medicaid Program.
Ford also took issue with the Governor’s unemployment numbers, questioning where the Bentley was getting them from.
The Democrats are proposing a job creation bill that supports small businesses by creating a tax credit that would be paid for by repealing a tax loophole that is currently only offered to multinational corporations.
“You have not seen a piece of legislation proposed by this Governor or the republican leadership that helps those small businesses,” said Ford, “We are pushing a bill today that would close tax loop holes for out of country companies and give a tax credit to every small business.”
House Democrats said they will also be sponsoring legislation that would provide a 10 percent cost-of-living pay increase for teachers and support personnel over the next three years. The bill would offer a 5 percent raise during the first year, followed by a 2.5 percent raise in the second and third years.
School safety is another issue that will be high on the democrats agenda for the session, Representative Merika Coleman-Evans, (D-Birmingham) said, “I was disappointed a couple of weeks ago when I asked the Governor, ‘what are you going to do to protect children in Alabama.’ His response to me was to set up a tip line, and my response to him as a parent of two children who attend public schools that a tip line does not make me feel safe.”
Coleman-Evans will be putting forward a bill that would place School Resource Officers in all 1,475 public schools in Alabama.
The Legislative Fiscal Office estimates that it would cost $50 million annually to hire, train, and equip a resource officer in each of Alabama’s public schools. House Democrats are proposing legislation that will provide half of the funding for those costs to any public school that wants to hire a resource office. The expense, estimated to cost $25 million annually, would be paid for by a state lottery.
“I think the right way to make sure every child in the state of Alabama is protected is to make sure their is a trained resource officer in every school in the state of Alabama,” Coleman-Evans said, “Our children are our future so we should invest in our children’s’ safety and well-being.”
Ford said, he believe it was right for, “our bills to receive the same and fair treatment in committee, [as republicans].
Other legislation proposed by the democrats will include:
A state lottery can raise $250 million annually for our children’s education. The lottery bill proposed by House Democrats will allocate the revenue generated from the lottery for three purposes:
• To increase the per diem given to teachers for classroom supplies from $300 to $1,000 • To provide the $25 million needed each year to fund the resource officer program • To provide scholarships to A/B Honor Roll Students for tuition and fees at any Alabama university, college, or technical school.
Our state government made a commitment to the PACT participants that we would provide their children with an education. Today, Democrats are keeping that promise.
House Democrats are proposing legislation that would take 84 percent of the funds in the PACT program and distribute them to Alabama’s colleges and universities based on the percentage of PACT students they admit on average. In exchange for this money for their endowments, the schools would be required to waive all tuition and fees for PACT students.
PACT participants will not notify the school that they are a PACT participant until after they have been accepted, and the schools cannot ask applicants if they are PACT participants. The schools also will be prohibited from dismissing or expelling PACT participants for any reason other than the standard reasons for dismissing or expelling a student.
The remaining 16 percent of funds left in the account would used to provide payments for students who go to private or out-of-state schools, for refunds to participants who request a refund, and to cover administrative costs.
Closing Corporate Tax Loopholes
House Democrats are sponsoring a series of bills that would raise a minimum of $58 million annually for Alabama’s schools by closing certain corporate tax loopholes that allow multinational corporations like ExxonMobil to pay little or no state income taxes. It is unfair that small business owners in Alabama have to pay these taxes while their multinational competitors are allowed to avoid them. House Democrats will level the playing field and bring desperately needed revenue to the Education Trust Fund.