By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
The Alabama House Republican Caucus met in a special meeting on Martin Luther King Day to re-confirm embattled State Representative Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) as the Speaker of the House, a job he has held since the 2010 Special Session. Perhaps telegraphing an effort to raise taxes on the people of Alabama again, an emboldened Speaker Mike Hubbard struck back against GOP members of the legislature who fought against raising taxes in 2015.
Representative Will Ainsworth (R-Guntersville) said in a statement on Facebook, “Has the Republican Leadership lost its mind? Basically to summarize this, if you support or carry tax increase Legislation you get a promotion. If you oppose taxes, and you are on an important committee, then you are removed. What happened to limited Government, lower taxes, and reforming Government. Very disappointing.”
Speaker Hubbard said two of his Republican critics were receiving new committee assignments.
Rep. Ed Henry (R-Hartselle) was removed from the education budget committee and Rep. Phil Williams (R-Huntsville) was removed as chairman of the technology and research committee. Both opposed the tax increases on cigarettes, nursing home beds, and pharmacies passed in the second 2015 Special Session. Williams has openly declared his candidacy for Speaker of the House. Henry has also been quite vocal about his unhappiness with the current direction of the establishment GOP in Montgomery.
Speaker Hubbard said in a statement released to the Associated Press, “Committee assignments are chosen based upon the skills and talents each member possesses, and each of these members has distinguished themselves among their colleagues. I look forward to serving alongside each member in their new roles as we continue to do what is right for Alabama.”
Powerful House Rules Committee Chairman Mac McCutcheon (R-Capshaw) has been openly pushing legislators to raise taxes on fuel to pay for more road construction projects. McCutcheon said, “We need about 12 cents additional per gallon to adjust for inflation and construction cost. We are still looking at gradual increases per year based on the overall cost of a gallon of gas. Still working on options. We must invest in our roads! I realize there are some that will object but most individuals ask the question why have we waited so long to address this? One of the reasons is, this is not an easy decision for a politician to make. Voting on revenue is difficult but the time has come to make some decisions about the future of our Transportation Infrastructure. Many of you know that since being elected in 2006 I have made transportation issues my priority. We have made progress, but if I sit back and not address this issue now then years from now when I am out of office I will regret the fact that I saw a problem and did not try to fix it! Educate yourself on this issue and email me or your Legislator your concerns. Please email me rather than have a debate on FB.”
Other special interests, led by the Alabama Hospital Association, are pushing for dramatically higher cigarette and tobacco taxes to pay for a controversial expansion of the Alabama Medicaid program.
Meanwhile the State School board, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) and even the House GOP Caucus is pushing for a teacher pay raise. While the education trust fund (ETF) budget will likely have the money it means there is less available dollars for legislators to transfer from the ETF to the struggling state general fund (SGF). The legislature moved $66 million of use taxes that were earmarked for education to the SGF during the special session. Some legislators and Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) wanted to move as much as $200 million.
The SGF situation, even with the tax increase, is not much improved from last year. Prison and sentencing reforms have not eliminated the prison overcrowding situation at this point and the state still faces the possibility of a federal prison takeover. Medicaid reforms have been slow and the costs of the existing federal and state program have continued to escalate.
The 2016 regular session begins on Tuesday, February 1 and Speaker Hubbard’s trial on 23 felony ethics violations begins in March.