By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY— Candidate and first-term governor Robert Bentley wanted to let the people vote. But, in his second term, hearing from the people doesn’t seem to be a desired option.
Campaign literature from 2010 states Bentley’s position on gambling: “As a member of the Alabama Legislature, I have opposed any and all legislation that allows gambling and will continue doing so; I am personally opposed to gambling. Because of the legislature’s failure to address the issue, the people of Alabama must decide at the ballot box on a YES or NO vote whether to allow gambling in any form.”
Here, candidate Bentley lays out his position. He opposes gambling, but believes the issue is best decided by a “yes” or “no” vote of the people.
In a February, 2013 interview with The Montgomery Advertiser, when asked about generating revenue through gambling or a cigarette tax, Gov. Bentley said, “I’ll be honest with you, I trust the people of the State. If the Legislature passes something like that, I have no problem with it.”
However, when Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) introduced legislation that would allow the people to vote on gambling, as a way to shore up the State’s anemic General Fund Budget, Bentley rejected the idea with statements like, ”One of the worst pieces of legislation I’ve ever seen,” and “Alabama is better than to depend on gambling to fund its government.”
Since March, Bentley has been pushing a tax package that would add $541 million to the General Fund Budget, but there has been little appetite for a tax increase in the State Senate.
It has been reported, that toward the end of the 2015 Legislative Session, Bentley was close to completing a deal with Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) to raise $150 to $200 million with taxes. There would also be an additional $250 million dollars, in the form of a loan, coming from the Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PCI), in exchange for a compact giving the Tribe a monopoly on gambling in the State.
In that same 2013 Advertiser interview, Bentley was asked about a compact with PCI. To that he stated: “I’m not at a point where I am looking at that. That is not something on my radar screen right now. But, if the Legislature wished to pass something that allowed the people to vote and come to some resolution on this, I’m fine with that.”
Hubbard’s legislation for tax hikes and a monopoly compact was killed, after a group of Republican House members backed Hubbard into a corner.
The history of gaming in the State is murky, and laced with more than just a little intrigue. From accusations like Governor Bob Riley taking millions from the Mississippi Choctaw, to Riley funneling money to Citizens For A Better Alabama, that then found its way into Hubbard’s business interests.
Hubbard has been charged by the State with 23 felonies for using his office for personal gain and other crimes.
Marsh’s plan calls for a vote of the people, while the Hubbard/Bentley deal does not.
Over the next few months, these issues will be hotly contested.