By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Friday, July 24, the House Democratic Caucus announced in a statement that they were willing to meet with the GOP House leadership to solve the State General Fund (SGF) budget crisis.
House Minority Leader Craig Ford said in a statement, “We’re reaching out to the leadership in the Republican Party. We’ve asked Speaker Hubbard and Chairman Clouse to come speak to the caucus and discuss their plan. We are trying to reach out to them.”
The Democrats in the Alabama House of Representatives announced that they are reaching out to the legislature’s Republican leadership in an attempt to develop a bipartisan solution to the State’s budget crisis. The House Democratic Caucus has announced that they have invited Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn), and House Ways and Means General Fund Committee Chairman, Steve Clouse (R-Ozark), to meet with the Democratic Caucus next week to discuss the Republican Caucus’ proposals, to address the shortfall in the General Fund budget, and to find a bipartisan solution.
The Republican Party has an overwhelming supermajority in both Houses of the State Legislature, but they appear to be divided on what to do about the $198 million shortfall in the SGF budget.
In the regular session, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley proposed a massive $530 million tax increase package. That plan was so radical that not all of it could even find sponsors, and none of it ever made the floor of either House of the Alabama legislature.
Speaker Mike Hubbard proposed taking a $250 million one-time payment from the Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PCI) for a gaming monopoly, and $120 million a year in tax increases. According to our sources, the House GOP Caucus was in revolt over that proposal, and Republican State Senators were openly mocking the plan. It never made it to the House floor.
Senate President Del Marsh (R-Anniston) unveiled a plan to create a State lottery and legalize class III casinos at the four dog tracks, where there is already some form of gambling, plus extending that offer to PCI. Marsh by his own admission did not have the votes to pass that in the regular session. A revamped Marsh plan has been introduced for the Special Session, but the
Governor is opposed. Speaker Hubbard has called any gaming discussion, “a waste of time.”
Former Auburn football coach Pat Dye and a group of business leaders have gotten behind the Marsh plan. Will that translate into legislative support enough to pass? We don’t know.
Governor Bentley has written up a complicated tax increase plan that would take $310 million a year out of the private sector in massive tax increases. While the Governor has said that he thinks he has the votes to pass this plan out of the House, we can find few Republican lawmakers who will publicly, or off the record, embrace it. Gov. Bentley has yet to share any details of his proposal, other than a one page synopsis with reporters.
Both Houses did agree to pass a more austere SGF budget, that trims just over $198 million from the 2015 budget. Unfortunately, it fails to fund the just-passed prison reform plan, as well as the Medicaid reform plan passed by the legislature two years ago. That was vetoed by the Governor. But, some form of that plan is likely to come back with some modifications during the Special Session.
The House Democrats said in their statement that, “With the October 1st deadline quickly approaching, it is becoming increasingly clear that any proposal will need Democrats’ support in order to pass.”
Minority Leader Ford said, “It seems pretty clear that the legislature is still divided. They need our help, and Democrats want to be part of the solution. That’s why we have reached out to them. Time is running out, and the time for partisanship is over.”
The legislature returns from an extended recess on August 3.