By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
Two weeks ago, Gov. Bentley surprised everyone when he called the special legislative session. Legislators had expected the governor to wait until mid-August to call the session, but the governor said he wanted to use “the element of surprise” and take pressure off legislators over the gambling issue.
The people of Alabama expect their leaders to work together, and Gov. Bentley’s use of “the element of surprise,” as he chose to put it, is not in the spirit of that. The reason this crisis wasn’t solved during the regular legislative session is because House and Senate Republicans wouldn’t work together, and neither of them wanted to work with the governor. Legislators and the governor need to be able to work together during this special session, and that can’t happen when state leaders decide to play political games.
The “element of surprise” is something you use against an enemy or competitor. This is not the military fighting in a war! This is the elected leadership of Alabama, and it costs the taxpayers a lot of money for the legislature to come back to Montgomery! The people expect their elected leaders to work together to solve problems, not to use “the element of surprise” for political posturing.
What has this accomplished? No bills have been passed or even introduced in the House. If legislators had reached an agreement and were ready to come back, then the House and Senate wouldn’t have adjourned on the first day and planned not to come back until the first week of August.
The problems don’t end there. By law, the special session has to end by August 11th. That means that if a solution isn’t agreed to by then, the legislature will have to come back for yet another special session, costing the taxpayers even more money!
And instead of ending the talk about gambling, the gambling debate has caught its second wind! The Poarch Creek Indians have been airing TV ads throughout the state promoting a compact, Sen. Marsh has already re-introduced his gambling bill and I will also be reintroducing my lottery bill.
The governor is wrong to attempt to exclude gambling from the call for the special session. The people should have the right to choose between taxing gambling and the creation of a lottery versus the Republican’s tax package. At the very least, we could at least pass a lottery bill in time to get in on the ballots for next years elections!
Depending on how quickly legislators acted, it could take up to two years from the time a lottery bill gets passed until the state really starts receiving revenue from it. It could also happen much quicker than that if legislators were motivated. But either way, the longer we take to pass a bill, the longer we delay seeing the benefits from it.
I believe a good gambling bill could get us out of this year’s fiscal crisis without raising taxes. But even if we couldn’t get it done in time to help this year, passing a gambling bill this year could prevent more tax increases and budget cuts next year.
But instead of taxing gambling, the Republican leadership seems intent on raising taxes. One of the governor’s proposed tax increases is the elimination of FICA deductions, which would include taxing what you pay into Medicare and Social Security. And Gov. Bentley is not the only one pushing for this—some senate Republicans have sponsored a “flat tax” bill that would eliminate ALL tax deductions.
You’ve paid taxes all your life, and now they want to tax you to your grave!
The Republican Tax Package is not just a set of taxes on the wealthy. These are taxes on every family in the state: Eliminating your FICA deduction, raising taxes on bottled water and soft drinks, taxing e-cigarettes that people use to quit smoking, and trying to take money away from our children’s education by transferring it out of the education budget and into the General Fund. Earlier this year, House Republicans even proposed a massive tax increase on lube oils used in manufacturing, farming and the motor oil you put in your car.
Raising taxes is not the answer, and playing games and using “the element of surprise” is silly and counterproductive. It’s time to for our state leaders to work together instead of treating each other and the people of Alabama like the enemy!
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.