By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—After legislators finished meeting last week hoping to find a solution to the failed State General Fund budget, (SGF), Speaker Mike Hubbard told Mary Sells of the Decatur Daily, “We’re not that far apart on most things.”
However, State Senators and Representatives speaking on background said, that the two chambers are not close and that a second Special Session is almost assured.
Most Senators expressed optimism after its caucus meeting on Thursday, but said the joint meeting with the House left little doubt that a quick budget resolution was not forthcoming.
Most believe, the hope for any success rests on the diplomatic leadership skills of Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston).
The only agreement seems to be that Gov. Bentley’s demand for a major tax increase is not going to happen. Even among the Governor’s tight-inner-circle, the word “irrelevant” is frequently evoked with respect to Bentley’s position.
In the past, Hubbard, and even Marsh, have been dismissive of Bentley, with Hubbard being the de facto strongman. However, in light of the emails between Hubbard and former Gov. Bob Riley, in which the Speaker comes across more as a needy, groveling opportunist than a leader, it is apparent that his influence has waned. As one lawmaker, intoned, “Those emails exposed Mike’s soul and it is ugly.”
Hubbard still wields considerable power. But, when challenged by freshman lawmakers during the 2015 Session, who didn’t want to raise taxes, he backed down.
Hubbard is scheduled for a pre-trial conference on August 15, but his attorneys are asking for more time. They plan to attack, as unconstitutional, the ethics laws that Hubbard and the Republican supermajority passed in the 2010 Special Session.
Interestingly, Hubbard’s trial date hearing would have coincided with the beginning of the Special Session agreed to before Bentley called them back in early July.
Behind the scenes, Hubbard is still proposing $100 million in new taxes and a compact with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. Hubbard is telling House members they can vote to give the Tribe a monopoly to control all gambling in the State, and justify it to their constituents by claiming they could not stop the Tribe, but did, in fact, limit gambling.
Hubbard is rumored to have formulated this plan after private meetings with individuals from the Tribal Council.
Hubbard also continues to assure his most avid followers that things will be different when he is governor, even though he is currently facing 23 felony counts of public corruption.
As for progress on the budget front, there is some consensus on the Business Privilege Tax and raiding the Education Trust Fund’s “use tax.” There is also a movement to eliminate the State deduction on FICA.
One Senator, who asked not to be identified said, “The real question we must answer is, do we want to place more taxes on the working people of Alabama to pay for more Government?”
Governor Bentley and Hubbard believe they should, while Marsh says there is no appetite in the Senate to do so.
For now, the general feeling in Montgomery is, that when the legislature reconvenes on August 3, that will just be a warm up to the next Special Session.