By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Politcal Reporter
On Monday, January 4, Alabama Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) issued a statement in response to Alabama Governor Robert Bentley’s statement that he would make no proposals on taxes before the 2016 legislative session. Zeigler said that Bentley has changed positions yet again.
Auditor Zeigler said, “Gov. Bentley has changed his stand yet again. He now says he is proposing no new tax increases. He says the state is $200 million short for fiscal year 2017. Yet he has proposed no cost control steps. No cuts to the governor’s own budget, no cuts to his aircraft fleet, no cuts to his staff, no cuts to high salary increases for the politically-connected, no cuts to the $1.8 million for the governor’s mansion at the beach, no other cost-control steps. None.”
On Monday Gov. Bentley told WKRG News in Mobile, “I’m not going to propose anything. I’m just going to let them (the legislature) do what they’re going to do.”
Zeigler said that, “Bentley earlier proposed a .25 per gallon gas tax. Last year he proposed a smorgasbord of tax increases, including an increase in cigarette taxes. Only a few were enacted. Bentley had run for re-election in 2014 on a promise of “no new taxes” but quickly switched that position.”
This is a dramatic departure from last year where Gov. Bentley claimed the state faced disaster unless the legislature gave him another $550 million a year for the state troubled general fund (SGF). In 2015 Gov. Bentley proposed the elimination of tax deductions which effectively would have raised the amount of income tax that most Alabamians pay. He also proposed transferring $220 million in use taxes from the education trust fund (ETF) to the SGF. Bentley also proposed new taxes on banks, public utility bills, cigarettes, e-cigarettes, automobile leases, car rentals, etc. A defiant legislature passed a frugal budget that cut most general fund programs in the 2015 legislative session. An angry Governor Bentley called two special sessions to try to ram through some combination of ever changing tax increase proposals.
Eventually Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) was able to cobble together enough establishment Republican votes to get a $66 million tax package passed as well as transferring $66 million of use taxes from the ETF to the SGF. The package included a smaller cigarette tax, a nursing home bed tax, and a prescription drug tax passed. Members of the Republican State Steering Committee accused the Governor of hurting their brand.
Some observers were expecting Bentley to propose massive new taxes to expand the Medicaid program to cover over 200,000 more people and support some sort of lottery proposal to further fund the SGF. Bentley’s statement indicates that he may allow those sort of proposals to be led by legislators rather than using the bully pulpit to browbeat legislators to accept his ideas.
Zeigler was an outspoken critic of many of Bentley’s policies in 2015.