By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—In a stunning move of political one-upsmanship, Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard announced that the House Republican Caucus has agreed to an alternative plan, just minutes after Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh released his omnibus gaming bill.
Hubbard’s plan to raise taxes and raid the Education Trust Fund, while granting a virtual monopoly to the Poarch Creek Indians (PCI), has left many House legislators thunderstruck and fearful for their political futures.
Over the last few months, Hubbard and House Republicans have been lukewarm and in many cases openly hostile toward Gov. Bentley’s plan to increase the General Fund through a series of targeted tax increases.
Many House members pledged to not raise taxes as part of their campaign promises. Now, they are seemingly willing to break that vow to their constituents.
Up until recently, Hubbard has indicated that he would not support raising taxes. He has also given the indication of being on-board with Marsh’s plan to allow the people to vote on a lottery, expand gaming where pari-mutual gaming is already legal and authorize the Governor to enter into a compact with PCI.
The big question inside the halls of the State House is, why the sudden change of heart by Hubbard and Republican House members?
It has been well documented that members of the Tribe and their lobbyists have been working closely with Hubbard to secure a monopoly over gaming in the State. Many rumors have been circulating, including one that Hubbard could personally gain by securing a compact for the PCI.
Hubbard stands accused by the State of felony charges for trying to pass legislation to benefit one of his clients.
Hubbard has been indicted on felony charges related to trying to pass legislation that would have given APCI an exclusive contract to manage the State Medicaid Pharmacy Benefit Management plan.
On Monday, Inside Alabama Politics reported, “It’s widely rumored on Goat Hill that Hubbard has already negotiated a secret deal with PCI which would allow the tribe to continue its gambling monopoly in Alabama. That should come as no surprise, since Hubbard has long-standing financial ties to PCI. Another rumor circulating this week was the PCI have offered to pay Hubbard’s legal defense bill, for assurances Marsh’s bill doesn’t pass the House.”
While part of this speculation has now come into fruition, the rumor about offering to pay Hubbard’s legal defense bill, is only a rumor.
Those close to Gov. Bentley have said, that on several occasions, Hubbard tried to convince him to support a exclusive compact with PCI.
It has also been said, by those inside the governor’s inner circle who spoke on background, that Hubbard arranged for PCI and/or their attorneys to meet with Bentley’s legal advisors. Sources inside the Governor’s circle say these meetings have already taken place. This publication has been told by reliable sources that Hubbard offered to implement a tax package, if Bentley would back the monopoly compact.
Hubbard has felony charges against him for lobbying the Governor on behalf of some of his clients.
Speaking off-the-record for fear of retaliation, member’s of the House Republican Caucus say, that many of their colleagues voted for Hubbard’s plan out of fear. Others reportedly are just blindly following along.
This split between Hubbard and Marsh is unprecedented. But, the greater worry is what this division will mean for Alabama’s economic future.